Bank Robber Found Hiding in Mall Air Ducts

10-hour search ends with suspect's arrest

Sunday, Jun 3, 2012  |  Updated 2:03 PM CDT
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The robber stole an undisclosed amount of cash from the Bank of America on the 111th Street and South Pulaski Road around 2 p.m. Saturday. Jeff Goldblatt reports.

The robber stole an undisclosed amount of cash from the Bank of America on the 111th Street and South Pulaski Road around 2 p.m. Saturday. Jeff Goldblatt reports.

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A gunman who allegedly dropped into an Oak Lawn bank through the roof and zip-tied two employees during a broad-daylight robbery Saturday is in police custody after an exhaustive 10-hour search.

Authorities searched for the suspect in the upper reaches of an adjacent strip mall after the 2:14 p.m. robbery at the Bank of America at 4046 W. 111th St.

They finally found the man hiding in a second-floor air duct above a ceiling in the middle of the shopping center and arrested him about 12:35 a.m., Oak Lawn police spokesman Michael Kaufmann said.

He was wedged so tightly into the duct that officials had to cut him out of it, Kaufmann said. He did not resist arrest.

The ordeal started at 2:14 p.m., when a security company video camera spotted two people on the ground with the gunman, a black male with a bandanna and black clothes, Kaufmann said.

The gunman was zip-tying two employees’ hands behind their back, stuffing cash into a black bag, Kaufmann said.

“The (part) of the bank, where this occurred at was where the cash was kept. The defendant came in through the roof, and landed on the floor in there, and he took the employees, and put them on the floor and zip-tied them,” he said.

Police did not know whether the suspect put a hole in the roof or found entry some other way, Kaufmann said.

Oak Lawn police responded within a couple of minutes and set up a perimeter. The subject was seen running on the roof, Kaufmann said.

Oak Lawn police, the FBI and SWAT teams from the South Suburban Emergency Response Team were searching for the armed suspect in the upper reaches of the strip mall where the man was believed to be hiding. The bank and strip mall are separated by a fire wall.

Teams removed ceiling tiles and were searching in difficult places.

“It’s a very compressed area, and when you get to the top, it’s very spread out, so they’re having a tough time climbing around with their gear on and methodically looking,” Kaufmann said earlier Saturday afternoon.

While police dogs were on standby, authorities used remote cameras, robots and commands over a public-address system to try to locate the suspect.

Fifty to 70 police were on the ground in the area. A Chicago-Cook County police helicopter flew overhead. Nearby businesses were cleared ¬— including the bank, a restaurant, a bar and other businesses. About 25 patrons were cleared from the establishments.

During the search, authorities went from building to building on the roof, Kaufmann said. By Saturday evening, they found blood on a broken window, where the alleged robber might have entered.

“They did locate an area where some money was stashed, apparently from the bank robbery,” he said. “We also located some blood on a broken window, where it looks like the defendant may have made entry.”

Later Saturday evening, authorities were concentrating their search on a central area of the strip mall where the gunman entered and was spotted. Police found blood in the ductwork of the strip mall complex, and decided to expand their search to the ducts inside the building where he was eventually found, Kaufmann said.

It was not clear whether the gunman had any help.

“We’re not going to overlook that. At this point we’re looking for one person,” Kaufmann said before the suspect was located. “But of course we will be looking for more than that.”

The Chicago Transit Authority rerouted buses in both directions on Pulaski because of the police activity. During the search, police blocked off 111th Street east of Keeler Avenue, and the street was jammed with vehicles from Oak Lawn police and fire, Justice police, Sauk Village police, Orland Park police, Oak Forest police and fire and Richton Park police. The vehicles extended more than a block west of Keeler. A helicopter flew a tight circle around the blocked stretch of road.

Dozens of people looked on from the yellow police tape line on 111th, and news media outlets crowded the staging area.

John Roche, an Oak Lawn resident who lives nearby, received a message about 2:15 p.m. on his answering machine from the village of Oak Lawn reporting that there was an incident at 111th and Pulaski and asking people to stay inside.

Both Roche and his son, Patrick, 10, stood with residents at the police tape line about 6 p.m., observing the various jurisdictions at work.

“I’ve seen a bunch of cops and people coming out trying to find where the person is,” Patrick said.

The FBI is handling the investigation, and charges against the robber are pending early Sunday.

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