Federal and local law enforcement called Friday's capture of a third bank robbery suspect a win for an ongoing investigation into a string of bank holdups in New Jersey.
The arrest of Francisco Herrera-Genao, 22, of New Brunswick, N.J., is an "extremely positive step to ending this series of violent armed bank robberies that have plagued our state," Pedro Ruiz, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI's Newark office, told reporters during a press conference Friday.
Herrera-Genao, who Ruiz called a "dangerous criminal," was the third bank robbery suspect nabbed in connection to the deadly Thursday shooting of an FBI agent who had been tracking the men.
Some 300 officers had been searching for Herrera-Genao since the shooting near a PNC Bank on Thursday. Authorities were tipped off around 7:30 a.m. Friday to the whereabouts of the third suspect by a female who said a man matching his description tried to break into her car.
Herrera-Genao was found in the woods near a hotel less than a mile from where the Thursday shooting took place in Readington, N.J.
"It was evident from his appearance that he was covered with leaves and twigs, he was very muddy. He showed a lot of evidence from either being in the woods for a long time, or being in the water," said New Jersey Police Superintendent Joseph Fuentes.
Fuentes said a state police officer on Friday morning approached the suspect, who had no shirt or shoes on. The officer drew his weapon, then Herrera-Genao put his hands in his pockets and approached the officer, saying, "please shoot me, please kill me."
Other officers then showed up and the unarmed suspect was apprehended without incident, officials said.
Ruiz would not comment on any evidence found in the investigation, saying authorities are still trying to get a handle on the scope of the suspects' involvement in a series of four bank robberies in the area recently.
The fallen FBI agent's team had fired on the armed suspects outside a bank branch in Readington on Thursday, but the FBI said the suspects did not shoot back and the agent may have accidentally been killed by one of his own colleagues.
"Preliminarily, information suggests the agent may have been fatally wounded as a result of the accidental discharge of another agent's weapon during a dynamic arrest situation," the FBI said in a statement released Thursday night.
Two of the robbery suspects were captured shortly after the shooting. The third fled on foot and was arrested Friday morning in Branchburg, within a couple miles of the bank, State Police Lt. Gerald Lewis said.
Beverly Hardon was leaving her driveway for work when a man began banging on her car, she told WNBC-TV New York, her voice quivering as she spoke.
"He started hitting on my window, trying to get in my car," Hardon said. "I went so fast up that driveway."
The suspect was arrested minutes later nearby.
The dead agent, Barry Lee Bush, 52, had been assigned to the FBI's Newark office and had been searching for suspects believed to be responsible for at least four bank robberies, the FBI said. In two of robberies, the suspects had fired assault weapons while inside the bank, the agency said.
Ruiz said the suspects captured Thursday had two assault rifles and a handgun with them but didn't fire when Bush and the other agents confronted them outside a PNC Bank branch.
Investigators from the agency's Inspection Division have been assigned to investigate the shooting, the FBI said. Ruiz said he did not yet know how many shots were fired and would not elaborate on what led the agents to shoot.
The men arrested outside the Readington bank in north-central New Jersey were identified as Wilfredo Berrios, 28, and Michael Cruz, 21, both of New Brunswick. Both were to be charged with attempted armed robbery, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark said.
The FBI had started investigating Berrios, Cruz and Herrera-Genao after a March 2 bank robbery. A surveillance camera at a shopping center caught the masked gunmen abandoning a stolen Honda they had used in the robbery and getting into their "switch car," a rental vehicle that was traced to Berrios, according to the criminal complaint released by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
After his arrest, Cruz said the men were preparing to rob the Readington bank, according to the complaint. Cruz also said he, Berrios, Herrera-Genao and Efrain Lynn, 21, of New Brunswick, had robbed a bank in South Brunswick on March 16, the complaint said.
Lynn was arrested Thursday on a warrant unrelated to the bank robberies, federal prosecutors said.
It was not immediately clear if the men had attorneys who could comment. Telephone listings for the men could not be located.
Witnesses in Readington described a chaotic scene as the gunfire broke out Thursday.
Brian Agans, who works in an engine shop across from the bank, said he heard a "pop, pop, pop." He ran outside to make sure a mechanic wasn't having a problem with equipment, but instead saw law enforcement swarming.
"All hell was breaking loose. I've never seen so many police and authorities take action ever in my life," he said.
Bush joined the FBI in August of 1987, serving in Kansas City and transferring to Newark in 1991. He is survived by a wife and two grown children, the FBI said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.