Earl Barrett, a shopping mall security guard, says he is thankful he was required to take hostage training as a police officer in Prince William County.

The lessons he learned during an 11-year stint in Virginia were applied last week when a fugitive who had wounded a deputy sheriff held Barrett hostage nearly an hour in his office at the Mercer Mall in Bluefield, W.Va., last week.

"You know, it really comes from the philosophy that you're taught as a police officer -- you must expect the unexpected," Barrett told United Press International. "And it's not an experience that I am anxious to repeat anytime soon."

Barrett, alerted about the escape of some prisoners being returned from a magistrate hearing, spotted a man trying to break into a truck in the J.C. Penney store lot.

The man aimed a .22-caliber pistol at him.

"My main concern was to isolate him as much as possible, to get him away from the crowds in the mall, where we would be on a one-on-one basis, where I wouldn't have to be concerned about other bystanders accidentally walking in," Barrett said.

Barrett said the matter could have turned much uglier had the would-be robber insisted on going inside Penney's.

"With the people inside the store, it could have become very critical, considering the number of hostages that would have been available to him," he explained. "That's why I concentrated on keeping him outside to begin with and getting him into the restricted area."

Barrett recalled that one of the earliest lessons of his police training days was to try to calm the gunman.

"I have Prince William County to thank for that, as well as the courses I took through the Northern Virginia Police Academy," he said.