Police this morning shot dead a fleeing bank robber, but at press time tonight, his accomplices, three other men, are on the loose.
At around 9:00 a.m. four men armed with 9 millimetre pistols loaded with ammunition walked into the First Caribbean International Bank at the San Cas Plaza, which extends from the north side of the BelCan Bridge up to the beginning of the Northern Highway, held up the tellers, walked to the vault and then stashed about $230,000 contained in the vault into two bags – a knapsack and a plastic bag.
Albert Crawford, a security for San Cas, told us that he was alerted about nine this morning by someone inside the bank, that a robbery was taking place inside the bank.
Crawford said that he then started to walk toward the bank and saw three young men – two dark-complexioned men, about 5’8" in height, and a Hispanic man, about 4’8" in height, running toward the Northern Highway, with money bags in their hands.
Crawford and his supervisor, one Rodriguez, decided to chase the robbers, but when the robbers got by the San Cas bus stop, two of them pulled out guns and pointed the weapons at them. Crawford and his supervisor turned back and got into their company vehicle, then set chase after the robbers.
They saw the robbers run toward the Texaco Service Station, across the highway, where a grey Honda Passport was parked; the robbers climbed into the vehicle and drove off, heading north on the Northern Highway.
The two security officers continued their pursuit of the grey Honda, but stayed in contact with police officers who were already by the bank.
The robbers made a stop at around Mile 2 ½ right near the Ventura Roundabout, at Belize American Imports. They exited the vehicle and ran into the premises of the business, and along a cement wall to the back, by the river, where they boarded a small fibreglass boat, apparently held there by a fourth accomplice, and began paddling across the river in an attempt to cross to the other side, toward La Croix Boulevard.
Crawford and Rodriguez were being shot at, so they hid behind the Belize American Imports building until the police arrived.
The robbers continued firing at them, and even at the police, who had arrived on the scene.
A call for back-up was made by the police who were there, and when other officers showed up with high-powered guns, the real gunfight began.
Crawford recalled that the more officers who came on the scene, the more shots were being fired.
The robbers managed to reach the other side of the river, but one of the robbers was shot (either in the head or the back), and when he stepped out of the boat, he fell to the ground by the riverbank, and didn’t move afterward.
When other police who had been alerted arrived at the riverbank on the La Croix Boulevard, the robbers’ boat was floating near the bank, and when they pulled it partially onto land, they found two 9mm guns and a big black plastic bag containing money, all of which seemed like $50 and $100 bills.
The other bag had been thrown into the river, and that was retrieved by police. By that time, though, the three other robbers had fled.
Amandala also spoke with someone (who wishes to remain anonymous) who witnessed the shootout between the police and the robbers.
He told us that he was riding on the Northern Highway toward the Smart Company, when he saw two police Troopers being driven at very high speeds. The police vehicles then went around the roundabout and straight toward US Imports.
He said he heard many shots being fired, and when he looked around him, he saw several people stooping; some were lying on the street and others just running for cover. At this point, he decided to get down low, but stayed to witness what was taking place. The shootout between the police and the robbers lasted for between three to six minutes, he said.
The neighbourhood became alarmed at the shooting, and a family happening to live just besides the river bank in a wooden house was unfortunately caught up in the midst of the battle.
Six persons reportedly were living in the house, including a pregnant woman, who is 5 months into her pregnancy, and a 3-month-old baby.
One of the family members, who wished not to have her named called, told us she was in the sofa watching the television in the living room.
Right next to her, in the sofa, was her three-month-old baby. Two other young children played on the floor. In another sofa sat the pregnant woman.
Suddenly, she said, shots began to ring out, and frightened, they all lay flat on the floor. She said she put the baby on the floor and then shielded her by leaning over her as approximately thirteen bullets pierced the house, damaging the walls and furniture, but thankfully, they were unharmed.
When the sounds of gunfire subsided, the terrified family ran out of the house and gathered on the street. Pretty soon, the very end of La Croix Boulevard leading to the river bank was packed with a large crowd of spectators waiting to see what had become of the suspects.
An ambulance was seen parked at the scene, but it later left. Still, police stayed near the river bank and wouldn’t allow anyone near, as one of the four suspects lay there dead.
About a half an hour later, the crowd witnessed the body of one of the bank robbers, Alberto Benito Assi, 20, a Belizean, being carried by police from beside the river bank and put in the back of the police mobile unit.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Northern Highway police transported the two bags of money to the Queen Street Police Station.
At around 2:00 this afternoon members of the media attended a police press conference at the Racoon police station.
Seated at the head table were David Henderson, Acting Commissioner of Police; Elodio Aragon, Jr., Assistant Commissioner officer commanding Eastern Division; Douglas Singh, Minister of Police and Public Safety; Miguel Guzman, Superintendent; Alden Dawson, Assistant Superintendent of Police and head of C.I.B; and Hilberto Romero, Deputy O.C., C.I.B.
The purpose of the conference was to brief the media on the robbery incident, the visit of Prince Harry to Belize and the general and municipal elections.
Aragon read a statement about the bank robbery. The statement made mention of the shooting exchange between the suspects and the police which ended fatally for one of the four suspects, Assi.
In the statement, it is also mentioned that they suspect that one of the three remaining suspects was injured.
Regarding the matter, Singh commended the officers for their quick response and said that he has no sympathy for criminals.
In the conference it was learned that police have no one detained, but that there are several suspects.
Also this afternoon, the bank issued a statement in regards to the robbery, and informed the public that the bank would be temporarily closed.
“Head of Corporate and Country Head, Glen Smith, confirmed that the robbery took place this morning. The police have been called in and are currently conducting their investigations.
Smith confirmed that no members of staff or customers were physically injured during the robbery. He, however, noted that counselling services have been made available to the branch to assist members of staff who are understandably shaken by the incident,” stated the release.
According to the release, while the BelCan branch remains closed, customers may conduct their business at the bank’s Albert Street branch.
Police have impounded the vehicle and the vessel. These remain at the Queen Street Police Station.
Late this afternoon, the counting of the recovered money continued. Reportedly, over $160,000 had been counted by then.