Four reported armed robberies in nine days have local police searching for suspects.
On Monday evening, two robberies were reported within 30 minutes, but in different parts of town. A man told police he was robbed on Spruce Street, and just after 7:30 p.m. the Little Caesars Pizza restaurant on Walton Road was robbed at gunpoint.
The descriptions of the suspects in the two robberies are not similar.
“The description provided to the officers from the Little Caesars Pizza robbery and the one on Spruce Street are very different,” La Grande Police Lt. Gary Bell said. “That being the case, we cannot definitively say those two events were unrelated, and we can’t say they were related.”
Monday night’s armed robbery on Spruce Street was the most recent of three similar incidents in a week, and the description of the male suspect in these robberies match. According to La Grande Police Department press releases, the suspect reportedly brandished a small handgun in all three of the robberies.
In a press release Tuesday morning, the police department noted the three victims are friends.
“It’s a very challenging investigation,” Bell said. “We’re trying to keep an open mind and look at all the possible leads.”
Bell said two of the victims had personal items taken. In the Monday night robbery on Spruce Street, the victim fought the suspect off.
“The victim was approached from behind, and when he was aware that the suspect was there, he defended himself,” Bell said.
As far as police know, no injuries were sustained by either person, he said.
Because these three robberies happened in residential neighborhoods, the police lack video recordings.
“It’s very difficult because we’re operating with essentially statements of the victims,” Bell said. “We’re doing the very best that we can based off this. We have convened a task force with officers from La Grande Police and the (Union County) Sheriff’s Office to focus on nothing but these crimes.”
In the robbery at Little Caesars Pizza, the suspect displayed a gun to an employee and left with an undisclosed amount of money, Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen said.
“(Law enforcement) got there within minutes of the call to dispatch,” Rasmussen said. “The guy had already left, but we were able to look at some surveillance cameras that were near.”
Rasmussen declined to say how many witnesses were at the scene or how much information they were able to get from the video footage.
Amanda Montanez, a manager at Little Caesars, said the employee whose name has not been released was frightened but otherwise fine.
Rasmussen said the deputies are working on the leads they’ve received.
“We’re doing the best we can with the information we have,” Rasmussen said.
He said there is the possibility that there was more than one person involved in the pizzeria robbery, but declined to elaborate. The suspect left the scene in a dark sedan, but the sheriff would not say whether the suspect was the driver or the passenger of the vehicle.
LGPD and UCSO are being assisted by the Oregon State Police.
“People who are working in stores need to be aware of their surroundings,” Rasmussen said. “It’s important to have security cameras working if you have them, but make sure to be aware when you’re working alone.”
Since the initial armed robbery was reported on Nov. 26, many commenters on social media have expressed anger and vowed to arm themselves against potential robbers.
“We support the Constitution and the Second Amendment, and citizens absolutely have the right to carry firearms,” Bell said. “We just want people to be careful. We don’t want someone to get hurt unnecessarily by either the suspects committing the crimes or the citizens exercising their rights to carry.”
Bell said the suspects in all three Spruce Street-area crimes have been described as wearing hooded sweatshirts, but it’s a common clothing choice and “we don’t want a circumstance of mistaken identity.”
Bell dismissed rumors that have circulated on social media that there were more than two robberies on Monday night. He said there were only two reported robberies.