ST. PETERSBURG - A massive search for several gunmen accused of holding an elderly couple hostage kept a St. Petersburg neighborhood on edge early Saturday morning.
But it was all for naught.
Pinellas detectives now say the couple’s son made the whole thing up.
St. Petersburg officers first responded to a home on 40th Avenue North after getting a report of a hostage situation where shots had been fired just before 9 a.m.
Investigators say 35-year-old Binh Nguyen, who lives at 3763 40th Avenue North, knocked on his neighbor’s door and told him to call 911.
Tim Major said he didn't know what to think when he saw Nguyen, shaken and asking for help.
"The son said it was a hostage situation, that there were 8 gunman at the house that there was high velocity rifles, military rifles." He said the men had broke into his home and were holding his parents hostage, deputies said.
Another neighbor Jeffrey Prouty, called 911 and went outside. He saw Nguyen's parents, Qui Phan and Thanh Nguyen, walking out of the house, deputies said. Both were unhurt, but neither speaks good English and weren’t able to talk to him, deputies said.
Officers began talking to witnesses, including Binh Nyugen, who again repeated his story that his parents had been held hostage.
He told officers shots had been fired, and that an injured person and the suspects were still inside the home.
The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation, as the home is in unincorporated Pinellas County. For a 3rd time Nguyen told the story about an armed home invasion where someone had been hurt.
Multiple deputies, SWAT personnel and hostage negotiators were called to the neighborhood.
A perimeter was set up and some neighbors were evacuated from their homes, as deputies tried to make contact with the alleged gunmen.
"It was haywire, it looked like a war zone out here for a little bit.", Major said.
When SWAT members entered Nguyen’s home, several hours after the ordeal began, no one was inside.
Investigators concluded that Nguyen had lied about the whole thing and that his parents were never in any danger.
He admitted to detectives that he was under the influence of prescription drugs and alcohol, but didn't say why he made up the story, according to the Sheriff"s Office.
Nguyen was arrested for filing a false police report and possession of a crack pipe.
Deputies estimate it cost $13,000.00 to respond to the hoax. If he is convicted, the Sherriff’s office said they will seek restitution from Nguyen.
Neighbors were annoyed by the turn of events, but are also relieved that no one was actually hurt.