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November 22, 2002

Three banks in area held up in one day

From: Tarentum Valley News Dispatch, PA
Nov. 22, 2002

By David Conti and Charles N. Brown

Customers and employees were frightened but unharmed Thursday, when masked gunmen burst into banks in Pittsburgh and Plum Borough, threatened everyone in sight and made off with more than $100,000.

The two holdups — as well as another in Butler County — do not appear to be related, but the FBI said it believes the men who robbed the Plum bank are responsible for at least four other armed holdups in recent weeks. The agency has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the suspects' arrest.

Although most robberies in the region are committed by those who silently pass demand notes and rarely show a weapon, there have been an increasing number of what the FBI calls "armed takeovers" of area banks in recent months.

"We're very concerned about the level of danger in these takeovers," said Jeff Killeen, an FBI special agent.

Killeen said he believes there are at least two teams of robbers responsible for many of the armed takeovers, but neither group appears to be responsible for the first holdup yesterday at 9:15 a.m. at the National City Bank branch on Walnut Street in Shadyside.

A masked gunman walked into the bank, announced a holdup and ordered six customers and two employees to the ground. He said he would "start shooting" if anyone got up, city police Sgt. Walter W. Long said.

The gunman demanded access to the bank vault, where he stuffed an estimated $100,000 into a gym bag and fled, possibly in a white or gray Cadillac driven by another person.

Witnesses described the gunman as being black, in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5 feet 8 and 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a slender build. He wore a ski mask and dark clothing.

Fifteen minutes later, two men wearing ski masks and wielding semi-automatic handguns entered the S&T Bank on Unity-Center Road in Plum. They ordered about eight customers and six employees to the floor and told them to put down their heads and to close their eyes.

Ron Gomerick of Plum, who was in the bank to get a cashier's check, said he was the last person on the floor because he didn't hear the gunmen's order.

"I'm hard of hearing," Gomerick explained. "I saw everybody going down, and I turned around and saw a man and I just dropped to the floor. I was scared. I didn't know what was going on."

Gomerick said the robbers stole about $300 out of his wallet.

While one of the men kept watch, his partner leaped over the teller counter and filled a black duffle bag with money before the two fled with an undetermined amount of cash.

The Plum School District locked down all its buildings while police and the FBI searched for the robbers, who apparently fled in a blue Chevrolet Cavalier or a Pontiac Sunbird.

The robbers were described as black and wearing dark-colored ski masks and blue or black-hooded sweatshirts. One was described as 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall with a medium build; the other 6 feet tall with a heavy build.

In another incident, a lone white man — in his mid-20s with a thin build — held up the Dollar Bank at Point Plaza in Butler Township. The man, wearing a blue tossle cap, blue jacket and blue jeans, entered the bank about 2:30 p.m. He passed a demand note and fled in an older model, light-colored Chevrolet Blazer with a black roof.

Anyone with information about the holdups should call the FBI at (412) 432-4000; Plum police at (412) 793-7400; city police at (412) 665-4317; or Butler Township police at (724) 285-9600.

Staff writers Michael Hasch and Brandon Keat contributed to this report.

A year of bank robberies

There were more than a dozen bank heists throughout the Valley this year. Here's a look at which banks were hit:

# Aug. 29: Commercial National Bank, Route 22, Murrysville.

# Aug. 29: National Bank of the Commonwealth, Salem Plaza, Route 22, Murrysville.

# Aug. 22: S&T Bank, Hulton Road, Plum.

# Aug. 1: Dollar Bank, The Waterworks, Pittsburgh.

# July 31: S&T Bank, Sumner and Grant streets, Vandergrift.

# July 30: PNC Bank, The Waterworks, Pittsburgh.

# July 9: Southwest Bank, Route 22, Murrysville.

# June 24: Southwest Bank, Route 22, Murrysville.

# May 30: National City Bank, Fox Chapel Plaza, O'Hara.

# April 30: National City Bank, Route 356, Buffalo Township.

# April 16: Parkvale Savings Bank, Fifth Avenue, New Kensington.

copyright © 2002 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.