08/30/2007

Chicago police hunt for gunman after bank standoff

The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO A group of bank employees and customers taken hostage at a Far North Side branch by an armed robber were safe and accounted for this afternoon, said authorities, who would not comment about whether the gunman was arrested.

A SWAT unit left the area about 1:15 p.m., and a principal at a nearby school that had been on lockdown for hours said police had told him the hostage situation had ended. There were still street closures in the area, however.

A standoff with at least one armed robber, thought to be male, began about 9:42 a.m. at the First Commercial Bank branch, 6945 N. Clark St., authorities said.

Something went wrong during the bank robbery itself that resulted in the barricade situation," FBI Special Agent Tom Simon said.

There were no reports of injuries.

The hostages were employees and customers, Simon said. At about 12:30 p.m., Simon said "a number" of the hostages had been released in the last hour.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who represents the bank's neighborhood, said about 10 minutes later that authorities believed there were no hostages inside the bank, and all employees had been accounted for. Police have sent in a robotic device equipped with a camera to search for the robber, Moore said.

Simon could not confirm whether the standoff was over.

He said FBI and Chicago police negotiators were trying to make contact with the bank to persuade the robber to surrender and release any remaining hostages.

Simon said the hostages who were released were being debriefed by investigators on the scene to determine the sequence of events that led up to the standoff.

FBI agents and a SWAT unit were at the scene.

A witness near the scene said Clark was cordoned off by police north of Pratt Boulevard, with at least 20 squad cars stationed outside the bank.

Young Kim, 48, owner of A Fashion, a store at 7008 N. Clark St., said he was at the bank shortly before 9:30 a.m. making a transfer right before the holdup occurred. He said he was the only customer inside at the time, along with about a dozen employees.

When Kim left the bank, several police officers were running toward it, he said.

"I'm scared," he said. "I could've been in there when they came in the bank."

During the standoff, some 40 people were standing near police tape trying to catch a glimpse of the action when an officer approached them and shouted, "You are in danger! You're going to have to move back."

Shortly thereafter, police extended their barricade farther away from the bank.

L. Conner, a receptionist at Resurrection Rogers Park Family Practice on the same block as the bank, said her office was on lockdown, as was the entire strip mall where it is located. The mall includes a dentist's office, a tax service and a Dunkin Donuts, she said.

The Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy, a 6th- to 11th-grade charter school at 1705 W. Lunt Ave., was also on lockdown, said school clerk Anna Claudio.

Classes have been in session since Monday at the school, which has about 500 students and school employees inside, she said.

Also on lockdown was the New Field school, at 1707 W. Morse Ave., a pre-kindergarten through 3rd-grade elementary school down the street from the bank, said Mike Vaughn, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman.

Fifty school employees were inside this morning, along with parents and a few children registering for school, Vaughn said. School is not in session today.

An ambulance and other Chicago Fire Department personnel were standing by at the bank as a precaution, but no injuries have been reported, said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

The No. 22 Clark bus and the No. 96 Lunt bus were being rerouted in both directions around the scene, according to the Chicago Transit Authority.

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