December 6, 2013

Major manhunt for armed robber launched in Biddeford

Dozens of law-enforcement officers swarm the town in response to the 10th armed robbery since last week.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Dozens of officers, from local police to federal agents, surged into downtown Biddeford on Thursday afternoon as the city was hit with another robbery, the 10th in the Biddeford-Saco area since last week.

A task force of police from Biddeford, the York County Sheriff’s Office and Maine State Police were joined by cruisers from Saco, Scarborough and federal law enforcement agencies, but the suspect in a string of holdups at restaurants, markets and shops managed to slip through the dragnet.

Biddeford Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk said the robbery was similar to previous robberies in the city and in Arundel and Saco.

The man pulled a gun on an employee at May Mee’s restaurant on Main Street about 3:30 p.m., demanded money and ran off with a small amount of cash. The robber was described as a white man, 25 to 35 years old, between 5-foot-8 and 6 feet tall, of medium build and wearing a black sweatshirt, camouflage jacket and dark-colored stocking cap.

Late Thursday, Biddeford police released a composite sketch of the man. Fisk said it would be premature to connect the man described in the sketch to the other robberies.

Police set up a command post near the Biddeford police station Thursday night and planned to continue their search for the suspect throughout the night and into Friday morning.

“I don’t want to create a panic, but there is a concern. We have at least one man who is going into these businesses and brandishing weapons. Certainly no one can predict what he is going to do,” Fisk said after the sketch had been released.

On Thursday, police responded to multiple reports of people of similar description and of people behaving suspiciously in the minutes after the robbery.

One report of suspicious behavior led police to block off a section of Bacon Street, a few blocks from the police station.

Officers armed with assault rifles, wearing body armor and accompanied by police dogs surrounded a house at 60 Bacon St. after a man on a bicycle was seen in the area, witnesses said.

“Federal marshals, ATF ... they just cleared the whole building,” said Cory Brennan, who watched the scene from a nearby porch.

His friend Terrance Hall said he was amazed the robber could get away in downtown Biddeford.

“I think it’s kind of worrisome. I hope they catch the guy,” he said,

“It’s pretty crazy there’s so many in a row,” Ryan Worden said of the robberies that have plagued the downtown business district.

“Must be on meth, that’s what I think,” said Dave Wonstat as he watched officers on the section of Bacon Street that had been cordoned off.

The robberies have store workers on edge and on the lookout for suspicious behavior.

“I think it’s sad that’s what it has to come down to,” said Courtney Cleary, who was working the counter at Reilly’s bakery on Main Street. “It’s definitely concerning.”

By 5:30 p.m., police opened the street, though officers could still be seen inside the 2 1/2 story house, searching with flashlights.

Because authorities worry that the robber’s use of a gun could lead to casualties, they are marshaling a large force of officers.

“The concern is for public safety,” Fisk said. “We encourage all business owners to keep small amounts of cash in the register and to cooperate” if robbed.

No one has been injured, but the suspect is considered armed and dangerous. Police continue to search for the robber and say they are investigating several leads.

Thursday’s manhunt was on the eve of the city’s Downtown Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting. Downtown revitalization proponents have organized a community event, including live ice-carving, storytellers and musicians from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at City Square, off Main Street. Santa will travel by horse-drawn sleigh to City Square to light the tree at 5:30 p.m.

The most recent previous robbery occurred at D’Angelo’s Sandwich Shop, 352 Alfred St., just before 9 p.m. Tuesday. Biddeford police also are investigating robberies at the Family Dollar Store at 321 Elm St., the Super Sub Shop on Jefferson Street, the Red Rocket Smoke Shop at 80 Birch St., Tim Hortons at 426 Alfred St. and the Yummy House Chinese Restaurant at 20 Alfred St.

Similar robberies took place at the Arundel Market, 1144 Portland Road, and in Saco at Beachway General Store on Beach Street and the Big Apple Citgo on Route 1.

Police previously speculated that the robber was stealing enough money to support a drug habit. Asked whether the brazen holdups, some within a few blocks of the police station, suggest the bandit is challenging police, Fisk replied: “We won’t know till we actually arrest somebody.”

Anyone with information concerning the suspect should contact Biddeford police detective Peter Wentworth at 282-5127.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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