Joseph was one of 40 people held captive during a hostage standoff in Sacramento 16-years ago. Now she’s using her ordeal to train police on hostage negotiations.
When she first heard the news bulletin of a shooter on the Virginia Tech campus, 38-year old Lisa Joseph says she knew the gunman was a student.
"And I immediately just thought that some student was not receiving their proper assessments and that child acted out. It doesn’t shock me."
Joseph says that’s because like Virginia Tech mass murder Seung-Hui Cho, the gunmen who held her captive were also troubled young men.
Sitting at her dining room table in her Natomas home, Joseph thinks back to April of 1991 when she was held hostage by three teenagers and a 21-year-old at a Good Guys store near Florin Road. She was at the electronics store with her uncle and cousin.
"I’d say 15 minutes in to being inside of the Good Guys store, 4 Asian gunmen come in, they surround the store, two in the front, two in the back and I was like trying to hurry up and get out of the store when one of the gunmen caught us, pulled my hair, put me to the front of the store, had all the 40 hostages go up to the front of the store and basically said ‘this is a hostage taking somebody needs to call the police, we have some negotiating to do.’ So that’s what we did and the whole time they just basically told what was bothering them, tortured us, we had to play games with quarters and the people who lost got shot."
Three hostages were shot and killed, including Joseph’s uncle. She says the Vietnamese-American gunmen complained to them about problems at school - not being able to get a high school diploma or a job. The standoff lasted 8 1/2 grueling hours. It’s still considered one of the largest hostage rescues in US history. You can find old news footage on the internet.
Joseph says she thought she was going to die that day. When it was all over, police killed 3 of the gunmen. 10 hostages were injured, including Joseph who suffered a miscarriage. She says it took a long time before she could bring herself to talk about that day.
"Back in the early ‘90s when the incident happened, I really didn’t want to talk about that because people couldn’t relate to me. But after 911 people were like ‘oh yeah, I totally understand what you’re saying.’ So now I just I feel like it’s easier to talk about. Now that we’ve got the Virginia Tech incident now I can really talk about the issues that are very disturbing to me."
For several years now, Joseph has been discussing those disturbing issues as part of her job as a consultant to hostage negotiators around the country. In her training, Joseph covers the do’s and dont’s, everything from voice tones to word choices.
According to Joseph, fluency in communication is the key to a successful negotiation.
"I walk law enforcement through all that happened to me and then I explain I have Stockholm Syndrome and that’s where you side with your captors while you’re held hostage and I explain how that comes about and what the person’s thinking and why so that they can have an in-depth idea of what’s going on in a victim’s mind."
In addition to being a consultant, Joseph is a children’s advocate. She says it’s important that kids get early intervention if they’re experiencing psychological or academic problems. That kind of support, she says, may have prevented her captors from storming into the Good Guys store.
"I’m not justifying their negative actions however I’m starting to understand that they were just crying out for some services and some support which they weren’t getting and they decided to act out negatively."
Lisa Joseph says she forgives the gunmen who held her hostage and believes the ordeal has actually made her a better person with a purpose in life – to help troubled kids get the help they need and ultimately prevent another active shooter massacre.