A guest at a hotel that hosts one of Houston’s largest New Year’s parties caused a brief scare when he was arrested early Sunday, hours before the event, with several guns and ammunition in his room.
The discovery came as other U.S. cities stepped up security over fears of attacks — and just three months after a gunman killed dozens of concertgoers from a hotel room in Las Vegas. It prompted headlines like this from Fox News about a “small arsenal” of weapons at Houston’s downtown Hyatt Regency.
But by Sunday afternoon, Houston police said they believed the man had no intention to use his guns and had simply brought them up to his room for safekeeping.
He may still face charges for causing a drunken scene in the hotel lobby and assaulting an officer, police spokesman Victor Senties told The Washington Post.
Russell Lawrence Ziemba, 49, showed up in the Hyatt lobby shortly after midnight. Police said he was drunk and was harassing guests.
An off-duty officer, moonlighting as a security guard, told the man to go back to his room. But he was soon back in the lobby, making another scene.
At some point, Senties said, Ziemba struggled with the officer to the point of assaulting him.
Finally, the spokesman said, the officer escorted Ziemba back to his room, and a manager told him to pack his bags.
“That’s when the officer sees ammunition in the room,” Senties said. “He calls for assistance.”
More officers arrived, and they found several guns inside the guest’s baggage. The Houston Chronicle described these as an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun, a handgun “and many rounds of ammunition.”
Ziemba told the officers that he had brought the guns in from his truck, lest they be stolen, but police arrested him and told reporters before sunrise that he could face charges for unlawfully carrying weapons, as well as trespassing in the lobby.
Fox News reported that the man’s suite was on the top floor of the hotel, which the Chronicle wrote was expected to draw 2,000 people to ring in the new year.
Ziemba had simply planned to be one of the celebrants, Senties said. But he remained in detention Sunday afternoon as police prepared to charge him with assaulting an officer, if not also criminal trespass. He no longer faces any weapons charges, and the spokesman noted that Texas has laws that permit guns to be carried openly in many circumstances.
“There’s no indication it was going to be what everyone initially thought,” Senties said.
Nevertheless, the hotel’s managing director wrote in a statement that “heightened security measures are in place” and would remain so until the party ends in the early hours of 2018.
As NPR wrote, New York and Las Vegas will host their big parties under the strictest security measures in years. But the Chronicle reported that Houston’s partygoers showed no signs of changing their plans over a few guns in the hotel.