The SUV used by the burglars to ram into the front of a gun store in Rockville, Md. (Montgomery County Police)

The four burglars who used an SUV to ram their way into a Maryland gun store at 2:35 a.m. Thursday knew they had to move quickly after the resounding crash and the possibility that an alarm would soon draw police.

A fifth person waiting in a getaway car possibly “warned his colleagues that we were on the way,” Montgomery County’s acting police chief Marcus Jones said, as investigators worked to determine whether the break-in was linked to a Howard County gun store burglary the day before in which 19 guns were stolen.

The heist Thursday targeted the United Gun Shop in the 5400 block of Randolph Road, which is east of Rockville Pike in the North Bethesda-Rockville area.

Taking an inventory to account for what may be missing was a challenge. “The store is a mess because we have a car that drove through the front of it,” Jones said.

In the Rockville incident, the men who forced their way into the store quickly climbed into the getaway car with an unknown number of stolen guns.

As it drove off, the car headed in the wrong direction in the narrow parking lot and came upon a dead end, forcing the car to turn around, police said. That left it facing the first patrol car, which arrived four minutes after the SUV rammed through the store, according to police officials. The burglars sped toward the officer, who got out of his car and fired his weapon, according to Jones.

One man was fatally shot as the vehicle he was in continued out of the lot. The car traveled only a short distance before it became disabled and the four remaining burglars bailed and ran, abandoning the man shot, Jones said. The four had not been located as of early Thursday evening, and the man shot had not been publicly identified pending notification of his family.

The man’s name, Jones said, provided useful information for investigators.

Detectives could not say with certainty that the burglary was tied to the incident in adjoining Howard County, but “the sense I have is the M.O. was the same,” Jones said.

He said he hopes detectives find the thieves soon while they still have the stolen guns or can determine where they are.

“A big concern is illegal sales now coming from a gun ring — and there’s going to be more guns poured into the community,” said Jones.

In March 2017, thieves stole more than 30 weapons, including 24 handguns and seven long guns from United Gun Shop.

Police said in that break-in, the thieves pried open the front door with crowbars and smashed a glass display case. The burglary was caught on video.

It does not appear that the group that hit United Gun Shop on Thursday morning is related to the crew that burglarized the store in 2017.

Investigators have ruled out the shooting victim from Thursday as being part of the 2017 event. “He was definitely not involved,” Jones said, without elaborating further.

Police officials in Howard County said they are working with Montgomery detectives.

Early Wednesday, Howard County police said 19 guns were stolen from a store in the 11200 block of Scaggsville Road when a car rammed into that store. No arrests have been made in that case, according to Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for Howard County police.

The Montgomery County officer involved in Thursday’s shooting has been placed on administrative leave per the department’s policy.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.