Suburban Family Witnesses Dramatic Paris Heist

A suburban Chicago family found themselves in the middle of a dramatic heist while vacationing in Paris in one of the world's most prestigious neighborhoods. 

Niki Lazar said she and her parents, of Naperville, were at a bar at the Ritz Hotel when they witnessed several masked robbers with axes and guns enter the room.

They suddenly heard gunfire as the heist unfolded before their eyes. 

Paris police on Thursday recovered most of the jewels stolen from the Ritz Hotel, but are still searching for two thieves and any remaining missing luxury merchandise.

Three perpetrators “entered by the service entrance, smashed the jewelry stands, grabbed jewels that were clearly expensive with the help of axes,” said Jean-Michel Huguet of police union Alliance Police Nationale.

They seized watches from display cases holding wares from Rolex and Piaget, and then targeted the Reza jewelry boutique inside the hotel.

The suspects inside threw bags of goods out a window to at least two accomplices outside, according to a police official. The three inside were then blocked when they tried to flee through another door, and quickly arrested, the official said.

The accomplices outside fled, one on a motorcycle and another in a car. The motorcyclist dropped a bag with jewels and hatchets when his motorcycle hit a pedestrian during his escape. The pedestrian was lightly injured, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

Other jewels were found scattered amid the debris of the shattered display cases during overnight cleanup efforts, the official told The Associated Press.

The overall value of the jewels on display was estimated at about 4.5 million euros ($5.4 million).

A judicial official said Thursday that most of the jewels appeared to have been recovered. Authorities were working with the jewelers to determine if any items are still missing and their value, according to the official. 

Another police official said some of the thieves apparently had guns. Two people inside the hotel hid from the thieves and alerted police, the official said.

Patrons at the hotel’s renowned Hemingway Bar described panic as the thieves entered the hushed environment of the Ritz, where rooms start at 1,000 euros ($1,200) a night. 

The Ritz was an especially luxurious target. The hotel has housed such famous names as Ernest Hemingway and Coco Chanel. It was the last place Princess Diana stayed before her fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel, and hosts elite guests from around the world drawn to the refined neighborhood.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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