By Dan Morse and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 29, 2011; B01
At 9:22 a.m. Friday, a masked and hooded man walked up to a teller at the Capital One Bank in Takoma Park, placed a metallic-looking device with wires sticking out of it on the counter and pulled out a 9mm handgun.
He pointed it at the teller and at least two other employees.
A customer tried to grab the gun. The gunman then pistol-whipped him so badly the man bled onto the bank floor.
But his action created a diversion that allowed another employee to run out and summon help.
"He took immediate action. He put his life in danger," said Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Drew Tracy.
The incident would be over in 15 minutes - in the most dramatic of ways, under television cameras that broadcast the footage nationwide.
Police descended on the bank. But rather than give up quietly, the robber walked out holding a gun to a teller's head.
Police surrounded him as he used the teller as a shield. But as he stepped toward the parking lot, holding the teller in an armlock and aiming the gun at her head, a dye pack exploded. Moments later, the gunman slipped near a pile of snow, giving the teller a chance to slip from his grasp.
The robber chased her, but six officers opened fire at close range. He was dead at the scene.
A police officer was grazed but not seriously injured.
The dramatic ending was set in motion not just by the actions inside the bank but by the location of the bank itself - smack in the middle of one of the most heavily patrolled areas in the region.
Takoma Park has its own police force, and on most mornings its patrol officers make a point of being near the bank because of loitering problems.
And the area abuts both Montgomery and Prince George's counties and receives plenty of attention from officers from those jurisdictions.
"I don't think this was a smart bank to rob," a commander at the scene said.
Nevertheless, the man tried. Police said he got in line next to another customer and, when he got to the counter, showed the gun and, speaking in Spanish, demanded money.
He had two devices with him that looked like bombs. Each was a one-inch thick kitchen sponge wrapped in aluminum foil and duct tape with thin copper wires protruding.
One was placed on the counter. The other was attached to the robber's shoulder.
A bank employee managed to get to a nearby fabrics store and told employees there what had occurred.
Tony Sullivan, 43, was standing just a few businesses down from the bank when he saw a man run outside, point in his direction and yell, "The bank's being robbed! The bank's being robbed!"
Sullivan said he ran inside a neighboring business and told someone there to call the police while he waited at the door.
By 9:27 a.m., police had received four calls of either a robbery in the bank or a suspicious bag in the bank.
The first officer arrived by 9:28 a.m., police said.
Inside the bank, employees didn't make any sudden movements, Tracy said, basing his comments on a review of bank surveillance video. "I didn't see any fast motions or combative motions," he said. "Everything they did seemed to be very calm."
One of the bank employees was able to respond to the robber in Spanish. An employee gave the robber money but managed to slip in a dye pack, police said.
More officers quickly arrived and covered both entrances to the bank.
Based on the suspect's actions, Tracy said, it was apparent he knew he was surrounded. He appeared to be trying to stay on the other side of bulletproof glass at the teller counter.
"He kept peering to look outside," Tracy said.
Officers didn't enter the bank, in part because there was no reason to rush. "At that point, you want to slow down the situation," Tracy said.
At 9:36 a.m., the suspect and his hostage left the bank on the east side. As he held a gun to the teller's head, the two walked sideways - in front of at least a half-dozen officers with their guns drawn, who told him to put down his gun. It was seen hundreds of times on TV.
Sullivan saw Takoma Park officers arrive and saw the robber and hostage come out of the bank. The robber tried to back into a sub shop, Sullivan said, but the door was locked. About a second later, a red cloud from the dye pack filled the air, and then the robber slipped.
The hostage made her move and ran toward the officers. The robber chased after her, evidently believing she still was his best chance at getting away, Tracy said.
Officers on the scene waited a few seconds because the hostage was so close and then opened fire.
"They were all around him," said Martha Isaacoff, who was working nearby. "We heard shots. It was like the Fourth of July. He fell on the ground. . . . He just dropped. He just went bang on the ground."
Six officers fired - three from Takoma Park and three from Prince George's. Detectives found no evidence the robber fired his gun, but they said he had pointed it directly at the fleeing hostage's back.
A Prince George's officer was grazed in the leg. Police believe he was hit by a ricocheting bullet.
The bank customer who was pistol-whipped remained hospitalized Friday night, police said.
Police did not release the name of the robber. Based on their preliminary investigation, they think he lived in the area and was acting on his own.
Staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Carol Morello contributed to this report.