published Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Armed, masked man robs bank in Hixson

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    Unidentified Chattanooga law enforcement officials work at the scene of a bank robbery that occurred just before noon Tuesday at the SunTrust Bank off Northpoint Boulevard. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

With a black ski mask pulled over his face and gloves covering his hands, a bandit entered a Hixson bank Tuesday, jumped the counter and ordered a teller to give him money at gunpoint.

Then the robber made his getaway on a bicycle.

Police are still searching for the robber after he took an undisclosed amount of cash and fled in an unknown direction from the SunTrust Bank located at 1969 Northpoint Blvd. about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“It was pretty clear, he just wanted to get the money and get out,” said a 60-year-old man who was inside the bank when the gunman entered.

The man, who declined to give his name, said he was pulling files from a safe-deposit box when he realized a robbery was going on.

The witness said there were a total of about five customers inside the bank at the time.

Police did not report any injuries of customers or bank employees.

Two people fled out the door with the gunman commanding them to stop, but not shooting at them, the witness said.

Shortly after the robbery, bank staff posted a sign on the front door, stating the location was closed due to an emergency. No official crime scene tape marked the bank doors.

After speaking with investigators on scene, Chattanooga police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said there “were enough officers to secure the perimeter so tape wasn’t an issue.”

Investigators in many cases use surveillance images and ask for the public’s help to identify an assailant. But Tuesday’s robbery presents challenges since the robber had his face completely covered.

“It’s very tough to do anything with this type of information,” said Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor and chairman of the department of sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Without facial features shown, police may not be able to do biometric measurements, which help with composite sketches and detailed suspect descriptions, limiting them to height and weight of the suspect.

The robber was described as a man 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 250 pounds. He left the scene toting the money in a black garbage bag.

Bank robbers tend to conduct a series of robberies and burglaries, often graduating to bigger crimes, Kobilinsky said.

“I suspect it’s not the last time they will hear from this fellow,” he said.

The FBI is investigating this case with the Chattanooga Police Department.

Bank robberies are not common in the city.

In Chattanooga, there were two bank robberies with three arrests made in 2010. This year, there have been two bank robberies with no arrests made, including Tuesday’s robbery, according to department records.

According to 2010 FBI bank-crime statistics, there were 110 bank robberies in the state of Tennessee and a total of 5,044 nationwide. Out of those cases, a firearm was used in 1,445 of the robberies, the FBI said.

Anyone with any information about this case is asked to call police at 423-698-2525.

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