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Gunman in Winn-Dixie hostage situation dies (Updated 5:25 p.m.)

GULFPORT – Clayton Blanchard. identified as the gunman in a hostage situation today, has died.

Police Chief Alan Weatherford said Blanchard shot himself in the chest with a handgun and was taken to a hospital for surgery.

Blanchard was due in court at 8:30 a.m. today for an emergency hearing on a domestic protection order, but he didn't show up at Municipal Court, Police Chief Alan Weatherford said.

Police identified Blanchard as the gunman in a hostage situation that shut down the Winn-Dixie store today when Blanchard reportedly walked in with three weapons and ammunition and held his wife and police at bay for two hours.

Police say Blanchard, 27, released the woman and minutes later walked outside the store and shot himself. He died after undergoing surgery at a local hospital.

Winn-Dixie remains closed, but police have removed barricades that shut down neighboring streets at Pass and Cowan-Lorraine roads. Neighboring business that were shut down have re-opened.

Previously, police officials said a hostage negotiator was trying to make contact with a man who was holding an employee hostage.

Deputy police commander George Chaix said it is imperative that people avoid the area.

Chaix said police received a phone call that a man had barricaded himself in the store with a hostage. Police evacuated all but one employee and the armed suspect and a SWAT team surrounded the building.

"All the people evacuated have been taken to a safe location," Chaix said.

Police also evacuated employees and customers at McDonald's, CVS Pharmacy and Family Dollar Store.

"It is standard protocol to evacuate neighboring areas in a situation like this, Chaix said.

Numerous onlookers say they heard of the hostage situation from news reports on their smartphones.

Matthew Hollemann of Gulfport came with a friend and set up lawnchairs on the sidewalk at Pass Road, just east of Cowan.

"I always keep lawn chairs in my truck and decided I wanted to come down here and look," he said. "I'm not scared."

"I am," said his friend, Alex Meinzinger.

Northbound traffic from the beach was diverted west at Pass Road. Eastbound traffic was blocked by police cars. Motorists were unable to go north at the intersection. Pine Street was open east of the intersection, as was Magnolia Street on the west side.

Amy Hopkins of Woolmarket said she had just left Winn-Dixie this morning and had gone to the neighboring CVS drug store when she saw the commotion.

"I heard a woman who was shaking tell a cashier a man put his shotgun in a buggy and went inside looking for his wife."

A few dozen people were standing around Handsboro Square, watching for signs of activity across the intersection. A police command bus was on the scene and a least one fire truck and numerous marked and unmarked police cars surrounding the edge of the intersection. American Medical Response was also on standby at the scene.

David Wheeler said he was westbound on Pass Road coming from Biloxi before police blocked the intersection. "I knew something was up when I looked in the Winn-Dixie parking lot and saw a police officer leaning over the hood of a car with a rifle. I was wishing people would hurry up and get out of the way. Innocent people can be killed just as easily as a person in direct harm's way."

The Sun Herald updates this story as new information become available.

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