Travis Keiler, 28, told an employee at the Shell gas station attached to the McDonald's that he was waiting for police to arrive, Press-Gazette Media reported Thursday.
"His comment was he wanted to have a confrontation with police. He wanted a confrontation with us," Shawano County Sheriff Randall Wright said.
The employee, Roxanne Nitecki, remembered briefly confronting the 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound Keiler early on in the standoff.
"He told me, 'I'm here to take over your shift. Lock the door and leave,'" Nitecki said. "I wasn't understanding; I said, 'Are you the police?' He said, 'No, I'm waiting for them. I've had a bad day.'"
Nitecki said a co-worker acted quickly to make sure customers stayed outside and out of harm's way by running to the gas pumps and yelling, "Get out of here! There's a man with a gun!"
Authorities say Keiler then held a McDonald's manager hostage at gunpoint for an hour. The criminal complaint also says Keiler told a negotiator during the two-hour standoff that he believed police were following him.
Police lauded employees and others inside the building for their reactions. They said the manager, Jacob Kujawa, kept calm during the standoff despite Keiler's weapon. Someone else in the building helped Nitecki, who uses a cane, out the back door.
"After I seen the gun, I was pretty freaked," Nitecki said. "I'm a woman who hates guns ... and I'm the type who'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero."
Prosecutors have charged Keiler with taking hostages with a deadly weapon and three lesser charges. He hasn't yet been assigned an attorney or entered a plea, court records show.