A gunman was fatally shot, while two of his accomplices were captured yesterday morning after their brazen attempt to rob the Republic Bank branch on Water Street, Georgetown, turned into a hair-raising shootout with guards and the police.
The attack was carried out around 7.35 am by the now deceased Elton Wray, also known as `Peas’, 25, of Eccles, East Bank Demerara, and accomplices Jamal Haynes, 24, of Norton Street, Georgetown, said to be an employee of the bank, and Keron Saunders, who were armed and masked when they stormed the building.
Although two of the men took bank workers as hostages during their attempts to flee, none of the bank employees was harmed.
Wray, who was an agronomist attached to the National Agricultural and Research Extension Institute (NAREI), was shot once in his chest by a guard while trying to escape. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH), where he was taken for treatment.
Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum confirmed that Wray’s best friend, Haynes, who was shot in both of his legs, was admitted as a patient at the GPH under police guard. Saunders, he added, was taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), at Eve Leary, for questioning. He was said to be co-operating with the police.
Wray, the son of a senior immigration officer, recently returned to Guyana after completing his studies in China on a scholarship. He is believed to be the mastermind of the crime. The news of his involvement in the crime prompted intense debate on social media in light of his academic background and his occupation.
An employee of the bank was also reportedly taken into custody for questioning but was later released.
The gunmen were transported to the area in a car that was reported to have been hijacked on Sunday evening at Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara. It is suspected that the owner of the car transported the men to the scene and Blanhum said that he is currently being pursued by the police. The car was found abandoned in the vicinity of John Fernandes Wharf.
Investigators believed that the men’s plan was for the driver of the car to drop them at the scene and wait for them behind the arcade.
Stabroek News was told that the men used one of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) rooms to gain entry to the adjoining ground floor of the bank as employees were entering the building.
Once there, they reportedly ran towards an area where there were canisters but they discovered that they were empty. Because the men opened fire, members of the Professional Guard Service (PGS), which guards the bank, responded promptly, took up positions and engaged the gunmen.
PGS’ Managing Director Sean Kirkpatrick, on the company’s Facebook page, said the PGS security personnel who were on site immediately raised an alarm and armed response teams proceeded to the location. He explained that the teams that arrived on the scene shortly after assessed the situation and took up defensive positions. He said the gunmen then opened fire on the teams, which returned fire while being mindful of the civilian personnel caught in the exchange.
The gunmen appeared to have panicked while trying to escape, resulting in the ensuing gunfight with the guards. Wray attempted to escape by running towards the new vendors’ arcade area. He was pursued by a guard and was shot.
Haynes, on the other hand, held a male teller hostage and ran to a cafeteria located behind the arcade. Once there, he shed a black outfit, a wig and a mask that he was wearing and pretended to be a cook. However, persons in the area raised an alarm and he was shot and apprehended.
Saunders, who was left in the building, also emerged with a hostage but he was also subdued and arrested.
Commander of ‘A’ Division, Marlon Chapman, who was at the scene, told reporters that the police recovered three high-powered pistols and a quantity of ammunition. One of the firearms was reportedly dropped in front of the bank’s main entrance, while the other two were found in in the washroom area of the bank and an alleyway in the arcade.
Republic Bank’s Managing Director Richard Sammy, in a statement issued yesterday morning, said, “All of our staff have been accounted for and where required have received medical treatment. The bandits were unsuccessful in their robbery attempt.”
He noted that their greatest concern was the safety and well-being of the bank’s staff and its customers. “We have initiated trauma assistance processes for staff and shall continue to work with law enforcement officials in their investigations,” Sammy noted, before extending gratitude to the law enforcement agencies and security personnel for their alert response, which he said prevented the situation from escalating further.
Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick said PGS is very proud of its personnel, who through “their professionalism and heroism” were able to thwart the “brazen attack.”
At the scene, bystanders also praised the manner in which the members of the guard service and the police responded to the crime.
When Stabroek News arrived at the scene, the area was cordoned off by police. The bank’s managers were seen standing outside the building, while employees were being ushered out of the building through the shattered front doors.
There were visible bullet holes on a few vehicles parked around the area.
A vendor, Sonia Johnson, who plies her trade in the new vendors’ arcade, recalled hearing the constant sounds of what appeared to be gunshots ringing out and raising an alarm to alert fellow vendors.
Johnson said that she did not initially sense that something was amiss as she thought the lines at the bank were long because of the holiday weekend.
“I step in back and I started to put out my stuff to sell and I hear a noise and I say this got to be gunshots. When I look across I see all these people from the bank running going towards the arcade direction, so I call my friend and I say robbery at the bank,” she recounted.
“We went watching from our position. One of the guys came out from the ATM and he was heading in the arcade direction. He was wearing all in one black and his head all wrapped up in a red mask,” she added.
Johnson said that at the time her brother was across the road selling and he was forced to seek shelter due to the constant exchange of gunfire. “My brother was across the road selling and he said the man ring out two shots and he had to duck,” she explained.
“The other one [bandit] who was in the ATM, he keep ringing out shots then the PGS guards came and take up their positions,” she added.
The woman lauded the security service and police for their responses, which she described as “very professional.” “They took up their positions with their guns and they were angling and the police came. What I like about them is that they came from every direction,” she said.
The woman recalled seeing one of the bandits exiting the bank. “We see he coming out the bank and he had this young man by his neck, I guess was a teller, coming across to our mall,” she said.
She said the bandit carried the employee to the cafeteria and later released him. She said, “He went in the kitchen and pretend like he was cooking but the police came and got him.”
Johnson added, “When I got there I saw him (bandit) lying. The mask was there on the ground, a gun was there and the outfit. So I look at the guy and I saying, ‘Wow this guy well dress, he look mannerly….’ Blood was oozing from his nose and his feet.”
Republic Bank has closed its Water Street branch until further notice and advises all customers that their banking business can be conducted at all other branches.