- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

An armed robber yesterday eluded Metropolitan Police after holding up a downtown Rite Aid and taking hostages in a nearly four-hour standoff.

Police sealed a five-block area around the pharmacy at 1034 15th St. NW and called in the SWAT unit shortly after the 7:50 a.m. robbery. Store employees told investigators that an armed robber and two hostages might still be inside the store.

The barricade, which included two blocks of the busy K Street corridor, snarled traffic and kept employees from reaching their offices. Police reopened the area to vehicular and pedestrian traffic at about 11:45 a.m., after SWAT members swept through the Rite Aid and determined that the gunman was gone.

About a dozen people were in the store, including about 10 evacuated by police when they arrived. SWAT members rescued two others hiding in a back room of the pharmacy.

Investigators were not sure when the robber, described as a 6-foot-tall black man wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black ski mask, left the store.

Police found an orange jumpsuit and black ski mask in the alley behind the Rite Aid,said Sgt. Joe Gentile of the Metropolitan Police Department.

“It may have been worn during the robbery, then he took it off and fled,” he said.

The gunman forced the Rite Aid manager to open the safe in the store office. He made off with a couple thousand dollars, police said.

Investigators are reviewing the videotape from the store’s security cameras to help identify a suspect or get a better description of the robber, said Lt. Ralph Neal, the department’s 3rd District watch commander.

He said a robbery in the bustling downtown business district is not particularly brazen, given the early hour and the time of year.

“It’s Christmastime,” Lt. Neal said. “We have a lot of bank robberies and store robberies this time of year.”

Lt. Neal also said that the use of extra clothing to disguise a robber’s appearance is a common strategy among D.C. criminals. He said more than half of the robberies in the city involve a quick change of clothes to aid in the escape.

The standoff forced many workers to spend the morning in the cold behind yellow police tape or trapped inside coffee shops inside the cordoned-off area. Still, most people seemed relieved that the episode ended without bloodshed.

“It is a shame that anything had to happen, but I’m just glad everybody is safe,” said James Wilson Jr., an architect with Hayes, Seay, Mattern & Mattern Inc. He spent the morning confined to a sandwich shop a few doors away from the Rite Aid.

“Hopefully, [the robber] gets caught,” Mr. Wilson, 24, said.

Authorities asked for anyone with information about the robbery to call the police at 202/727-9099 or the D.C. Crime Solvers Unit at 800/673-277.

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