Madera police are searching for someone involved in a brazen armed robbery that terrorized several women.
Dressed all in black, the suspect scaled a 12-ft. chain-link fence to enter the 99 Cent Store, 1333 Country Club Dr., Sunday morning, according to Madera Police Cpl. Matt McCombs. At the time, there were six female employees preparing to open the store.
The ski mask-wearing suspect entered through a rollup door in the back of the building, reportedly brandished a handgun and demanded to see the manager.
“There were at least three people that I know of that said that for sure he had a firearm,” McCombs said. “And it was pointed at them.”
The manager, McCombs said, was able to avoid detection by hiding in a closet. From here, she dialed 911. Another employee called 911 as well.
Madera police, who were already investigating a break-in across the street, responded within minutes. They had to wait to enter the building, however, as it was not known if the suspect was holding employees hostage. According to Madera Police Lt. Gino Chiaramonte, this is standard protocol.
“The first goal for the officers is to ensure the safety of all employees in identifying who should be, and is, still inside or unaccounted for,” Chiaramonte said. “A lot of times, when you’re dealing with frantic civilians, because it is a very stressful situation for them, it’s trying to locate them all, and identify who’s still inside, and who isn’t.”
After sending a police robot into the store to survey the building, it was determined that the suspect had already fled. According to McCombs, the suspect attempted to open the safes, but was unable to do so. This was confirmed by Madera Police Det. Sgt. Johnnie Smith.
While nothing was stolen, and no one was harmed, Lt. Chiaramonte said the incident serves as a reminder for stores, businesses and schools to have emergency protocols in place, and to be prepared to use them.
“The big thing we’re trying to get out is just to make sure you’re reviewing your policy for emergency evacuation plans during those types of events,” Chiaramonte said. “Because you never know when or where this is going to happen, so ensuring you’re double-checking your company policy… so what does that look like to each of the employers, and the safety of their employees?”
The suspect has been described as a heavyset black adult male. Those with information are encouraged to contact the Madera Police Department at 675-4220.