- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Law enforcement officers are searching for two men who robbed a casino near Missoula International Airport early Friday, took a family hostage and fired shots at pursuing officers before finally freeing the uninjured hostages at three separate locations.

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott said the men are suspected of robbing Deano’s Casino at about 3:30 a.m., and fleeing in a car they had stolen by taking the keys from a casino customer.

A family from Lake Stevens, Washington, had stopped for gas, saw the robbers flee and called 911. A dispatcher asked them to pull over and wait so officers could interview them, McDermott said. They believed it was safe because they had seen the suspects drive away. However, before officers arrived, the suspects came up from behind them, opened the car door and jumped in, forcing a woman to drive while they fled into Missoula.

Officers spoke with the suspects through the family’s cellphone and were able to negotiate the release of a 12-year-old boy at a fast-food restaurant and then a 14-year-old girl and her grandmother at a Missoula intersection, McDermott said.

“It was rough on them to let their children out and have their children give them kisses goodbye and not know if they were going to see them again,” McDermott said.

One of the suspects took over driving, and the speed of the chase increased.

At one point, the driver turned around and fired several shots from the vehicle at deputies, McDermott said. Officers lost track of the vehicle for a time.

The family’s vehicle and the children’s parents were located at about 5:30 a.m. near Evaro Hill, on U.S. Highway 93 North, northwest of Missoula.

The suspects fled on foot, but McDermott said they had been on the phone arranging for someone to pick them up. Officers did a door-to-door search in the Evaro area while a police dog tracked the suspects from the family’s car to a spot along the road, where the trail ended, McDermott said.

The family members were in good spirits, thankful to be together and unharmed and were helping law enforcement officers, McDermott said.

The suspects are a black man and a white man, both about 5 feet, 7 inches tall and in their early 20s. Both were wearing dark clothing. Officers are trying to determine if there was surveillance video available. Detective Glenville Kedie said the men tried to disable the surveillance system when they entered the building.

Officers are increasing their patrols around area casinos, McDermott said.

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