Published November 19, 2009
Police searched Wednesday for two armed men who they say took hostages at a Florida T.J. Maxx store, sparking an extended standoff with authorities.
Venice police Capt. Tom McNulty said Wednesday that authorities believe the gunmen had already left the store by the time emergency responders arrived on the scene Tuesday night.
About 15 people were inside when the suspects walked through the door, and six remained trapped in the store as the incident unfolded.
McNulty said police treated the incident as a hostage situation. The six people left in the discount store, located in a southwest Florida shopping mall, were cleared from the scene shortly after midnight. There were no injuries in the three-hour standoff.
The investigation is ongoing.
Some of the hostages were freed after dozens of SWAT team members surrounded the store in Venice, Fla., as helicopters hovered overhead.
The final hostage reportedly hid from the gunmen and was injured after being shoved to the ground by the attackers. SWAT crews were seen dragging her out of the store on a blanket.
At one point a police car drove to within 10 feet of the entrance of the store behind a concrete pillar and several officers wearing body armor appeared to be talking to the gunmen.
Shortly before midnight, there were reports that a single gunshot was heard inside the store.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the gunmen tied up employees using Ziptape while making their demands. It was unclear what those were.
As of 2 a.m. ET, police and a K-9 unit had not located the assailants and were still searching for them.
The workers who had been held in the store gave police conflicting information about the incident. Witnesses said they saw three people running out of the store, and they appeared to be tied up.
According to the Venice Police Department, about 15 employees were at the store closing up around 9:30 p.m. when the two gunmen entered.
A manager for the store said that, at most, $12,000 cash could be on hand.
Venice, a coastal community, is located 70 miles south of Tampa.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.