A man suspected of attempting to rob the TwinStar Credit Union in Centralia on Monday morning escaped and should be considered armed, police said.
“He went out the same window he came in,” Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg said. “We should assume he’s armed, because he presented a gun to the employee.”
The man was shot at by Centralia police officer Neil Hoium, but apparently was not hit. He might have been cut when climbing through a broken window, police said, because a small amount of blood was found inside.
He did not get any money.
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The credit union on Gold Street quickly became a major crime scene, with officers blocking Gold and Kresky streets until around noon.
The discovery that the man had escaped came shortly after four explosions were heard at the credit union, which had been locked down after an attempted robbery shortly before 7 a.m.
According to a witness at a nearby diner, police threw what appeared to be four flash grenades through the same open window into which they had earlier thrown a hostage negotiation telephone.
Police thought the man was still inside the credit union based on remotely viewed video footage, but later discovered that what appeared to be legs under a desk in the video was not the suspect.
Around 10 a.m., police broke out a window and threw in a “hostage rescue phone” that picks up all sound in the building. Sounds captured by its microphone revealed that KITI radio was playing in the building. Police went on the radio broadcast to ask the suspect to pick up the phone.
Law enforcement originally responded to 1320 S. Gold St. at 6:42 a.m. after a report of suspicious circumstances.
Centralia Police Department officer John Panco said that when an officer arrived he was met by an employee near the front door of the building. Part of her arm was hidden behind the door frame, and her position was awkward, as if someone were holding her.
“She mouthed the words ‘he has a gun,’” Panco said.
Officer Hoium then pulled the woman away from the door, at which point the suspect became visible, police said. The officer fired two shots, but wasn’t sure if he hit the man.
The woman was not injured, but police say a knife was held to her neck and a gun to her head.
“That employee saved our police officer’s life, and that officer in turn saved her life,” Berg said.
TwinStar issued a statement via its Facebook page indicating that no employees were harmed during the attempted robbery.
The incident has similarities to another bank robbery at the same credit union Jan. 2, 2009.
In that robbery, a masked man confronted two employees and forced them into the vault approximately 6:45 a.m. The suspect stole an undisclosed amount of money and fled, leaving the female tellers in the vault.
Police tracked the suspect a short distance in the snow before the tracks disappeared. No arrests were made.
“It keeps escalating and escalating,” said Kelly Pennington, owner of Kelly’s Diner adjacent to the credit union.