Two bank workers found safe in vault after being held at gunpoint amid armed robbery

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Two workers at a University Place bank, who were being held at gunpoint, dashed to the vault and locked the door amid a robbery.

KIRO 7 News talked with a spokesperson for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday at the scene.

Sargent Darren Moss, the department’s public information officer, said they received an alarm from a Washington Federal Bank on Bridgeport Way West on Thursday around 10 a.m.

When deputies arrived at the scene within a minute, they saw a silver Cadillac vehicle speeding out of the bank parking lot, Moss said.

While deputies could not confirm if the vehicle was directly involved with the bank alarm going off, Moss said they made a split-second decision to drive after the vehicle.

“Just putting two and two together, that didn’t seem right. A vehicle speeding away from the bank, and also having an alarm at the bank, they immediately thought this must be a bank robbery. They tried to stop that vehicle. He refused to pull over.” He added, “I think they made a phenomenal choice to chase after the suspect.”

Moss said deputies followed the suspect vehicle on 40 Street West and through Fircrest. The suspect vehicle later hit another vehicle.

He got out of the car and ran into the woods, while his vehicle was rolling into the intersection of Orchard Street and Emerson Street, Moss said.

Deputies chased after the suspect, who was later arrested.

The second driver who was involved in the crash suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Soon after, dispatchers tried to call the bank, but no one answered.

A nearby detective went back to the scene and saw no one inside the building.

When he announced he was with the sheriff’s department, two bank workers came out of the bank’s vault.

Moss told KIRO 7 News the suspect went inside the bank with a handgun and held two workers at gunpoint while demanding money.

No one else was inside the bank at the time.

The workers gave the suspect money, however, the suspect followed up and demanded more money, Moss said.

When the workers handed the suspect a tray of cash, he said, the suspect threw the tray down, and the workers immediately bolted into the bank’s vault and locked the door.

The suspect ran outside and left the scene in a silver Cadillac vehicle, according to Moss.

“In this situation, the bank employees, they did everything they were supposed to do. The point where they decided to close themselves in the vault was extremely brave. We always would tell people, do what the person wants. The property at the bank, the money at the bank is not worth their life,” Moss said.

The suspect will be booked into the Pierce County Jail for robbery in the first degree, kidnapping, felony eluding, and hit and run, Moss said.

No details on the suspect.

KIRO 7 News spoke with a manager, who was working across the bank Thursday when she saw police at the scene.

“Just happened to look out the window at the right time. Saw a police officer driving through with their lights on,” said Sandee Kuwahara, an office manager for Michael Pitzen DDS Pitzen Family Dentistry. “I just had a feeling they (Washington Federal Bank) were probably being robbed. It was too suspicious.”

Kuwahara said she understands the risk that many bank workers have to navigate through after working at the Washington Federal Bank across the street for about six years.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have someone pointing a gun at you.” She added, “You’ve always been taught that you need to act for your safety, give them the money. It’s all about your safety.”

KIRO 7 News also spoke with neighbors in the area to learn more about the community.

“It’s a pretty close-knit street we have here. Very neighborly. And we look out for one another,” said David Williams, a neighbor. “That (armed robbery) was surprising.”

“That’s got to be very traumatic. Very traumatic for them,” said Lanie Olmsted, a neighbor, adding that she still feels safe living in her neighborhood while being next to the bank.

Sgt. Moss also confirmed with KIRO 7 News that they are working to find out if the suspect was involved in other robberies in the area after the department has seen an increase in armed robberies.

He told KIRO 7 News that his department has seen a %32 rise in armed robberies this year, compared to the last five years.

“A lot of these times, these suspects, they make it their profession. So they’re doing this stuff more often. It’s almost like a daily job. How many bank robberies have they done? How many cars have they stolen? In this instance, we know we stopped this one. But we’re going to check now to see how many other ones he committed. But the good news, he’s not going to be able to commit anymore,” said Moss.

KIRO 7 News asked to speak with workers at the bank, however, all declined. We also reached out to the company for its response.

Brad Goode, senior vice president and chief marketing and communication officer, later called KIRO 7 News and said they feel “overjoyed, thrilled and relieved that their bank workers are safe and not hurt.” He also mentioned that they were happy that Pierce County deputies were able to arrest the suspect.

He confirmed the money was stolen but did not share the exact amount.

The company has not yet decided if the bank will re-open to customers Friday, he said.