LUMBERTON — A manhunt continued Wednesday for the four bank robbers who shot at police officers Tuesday afternoon during a high-speed chase that spanned three counties.
Lumberton Police Department officers; sheriff’s deputies from Robeson, Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties; and agents with the State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are actively looking for the people connected to the Hollywood-style armed robbery of the PNC Bank at 700 N. Chestnut St. in Lumberton.
Lumberton police released still photos taken from a bank’s security camera of four people, disguised in masks, glasses and gloves, who robbed the bank.
The robbery, which took place about 3:37 p.m., led to a high-speed chase that began in Lumberton and ended in Columbus County, where the robbers’ gray Saturn crashed near a bridge on Silver Spoon Road, according to law enforcement sources.
All four robbers were still at large, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Dozens of vehicles from state, federal and county agencies gathered Tuesday evening at Silver Spoon Road near Bill Hooks Road, where a temporary command station was established and a search began. Two helicopters, one each from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office and the state Highway Patrol, circled overhead as deputies from Robeson, Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, the Lumberton Police Department’s SWAT team and canine units prepared to search the area.
Fayetteville police brought in drones to assist with the investigation, Capt. Terry Parker, of the Lumberton Police Department, said in a statement.
A photograph was posted Wednesday on social media with the claim that one of the bank robbers had been caught. But, that arrest was unrelated to the PNC robbery, Parker said.
Coty Ward, who lives less than a mile from Peacock and Whiteville roads, said he was welcomed by a fleet of law enforcement vehicles when he got home Tuesday.
“The state Highway Patrol, the Robeson, Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus County deputies set up a perimeter all down Bill Hooks Road to N.C. Highway 131 to Peacock and all down Silver Spoon,” he said.
Ward said he overheard someone on the radio say that lawmen were looking for two men and two women.
“I sent my wife to her mother’s house,” Ward said. “Everyone in the community is on alert. I would hate be them walking around.”
Coty’s wife, Chelsea, said she only had about 15 minutes to get her children’s clothes packed.
“Cops and a canine unit was all over my back yard. Forty yards into the woods, there is a field,” Chelsea Ward said. “One of the officers said they (suspects) are in your backyard, you need to go inside or you need to leave.”
Chelsea Ward said Wednesday her daughter goes to Columbus Charter School on Old Lumberton Road in Whiteville and the school was on on lockdown.
“I am a little afraid. They (the school) are very protective with our kids. I have no doubt that they will call us if something happens,” she said. “She’s probably safer there.”
Littlefield Middle School and East Robeson Primary School in Robeson County were locked down for a short time as a precaution, said Tasha Oxendine, a Public Schools of Robeson County spokesperson. The lockdown at Columbus Charter was lifted at 2:15 p.m., according to Headmaster Steve Smith.
Ward wants the ordeal to be over.
“I just want them caught, they don’t need to be members of society,” Ward said. “I can’t say I am scared because I am not in the thick of it but I have a lot of friends and family, they may not have anywhere else to go.”
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected] or Facebook Annick MultiMedia Journalist.