Reward offered in Gates heist

Published 11:56 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

GATES – The Gates County Sheriff’s Office remains active in its investigation of an armed robbery here Tuesday at Family Foods of Gates.

Sheriff Ed Webb said a reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of two suspects who entered the store, assaulted several employees and left with an undisclosed amount of cash as well as merchandise.

The suspects are described as black males, one tall and thin while the other was short and stocky.

“We’re receiving a few leads here and there on this case,” Webb said during a Friday morning telephone interview. “We’re working this case very hard.”

The hang-up, thus far, are conflicting reports of how the suspects left the area. Webb said eyewitnesses said they saw a small, blue Ford pick-up truck leaving the scene while others claimed they noticed a small red car leaving at a high rate of speed.

“We had one report from an eyewitness who alleged seeing a person running across the road towards the (Gates) Post Office,” Webb said. “We’re still trying to sort through all these reports.”

What is known at this time is that the two suspects entered the store through a rear door.

“There was an employee back there who was cutting up boxes and placing them in a recycling bin,” Webb said. “So the back door was open, allowing access to the suspects.”

Webb said that employee was confronted by the suspects and forced to the ground at gunpoint.

From there, the suspects entered the rear of the store where they confronted another employee, a female. Webb said she was thrown to the floor down one of the store aisles.

“At that time one of the suspects fired a shot…it was more like a get your attention shot as it was fired over the heads of those inside the store followed by a command for everyone to get down on the floor,” Webb said. “That command was heeded by those in the store, about 14 all together between the employees and the customers.”

Both suspects wore dark clothing; one with a bandana covering his face while the other’s identity was hidden by a ski mask. Webb said each carried a weapon, one armed with a long gun (rifle or shotgun) and the other with a handgun.

“One of the suspects went to what is called the gas cash register in the store; forced the clerk there away from the register and took the money,” Webb said. “He then forced that same employee into the store’s office and ransacked that area.”

Webb said the second suspect went to another checkout register, forcing the employee there to open the register from where he took money.

“He then made her crawl on the floor to another register and took money from that one as well,” Webb said.

All of this action was captured on the store’s surveillance video.

Afterwards, the suspects loaded the pilfered items, including 29 cartons of Newport cigarettes and a pocketbook of one of the employees, into a shopping cart and exited the store through the rear door. They were last seen walking down a path (the old railroad bed) into a wooded area behind the left side of the store.

“Based on the information we have, we believe the suspects entered the store between 7:45 and 8 p.m.,” Webb noted. “We began receiving calls, numerous calls, at around 8:10 p.m. and had the first deputy on the scene 90 seconds later.”

Webb said upon his arrival, within two minutes of the call, he encountered what appeared to be a hostage situation.

“We saw people still lying on the floor of the store, so we didn’t know at that time if the suspects were still inside Family Foods,” he stated. “Based on that assumption, we carefully entered and searched the building.”

Law enforcements agencies from Hertford County and Bertie County also responded, as did NC Highway Patrol troopers and NC Probation and Parole officers as well as fire department and rescue squad personnel. The SBI was also called to the scene.

“At one time there were over 150 people who turned out to help; they were concerned about their friends and neighbors,” Webb said. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all, particularly the outside agencies from the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office and the Aulander Police Department.”

The Sheriff said that numerous statements were taken from those inside the store as well as from eyewitnesses that were outside.

“We’re going to work this case hard until we catch those responsible,” Webb promised.

Those with information are urged to call 357-0210. They need not to leave their name, just the info, Webb said.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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