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Armed men escape mall during police standoff

January 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Fourteen people were released after being held hostage inside a Nordstrom Rack store in Westchester all night during an armed robbery. The search is still on for at least two suspects.

The situation started at about 11 p.m. Thursday when a husband or boyfriend of an employee called police to say there was an armed robbery. When officers arrived at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, they saw a man who was acting strangely run into the Nordstrom Rack. They then saw another suspicious man grab a woman and take her into the store.

"They observed a second suspect walking out of the store in the company of a female. That suspect looked in the direction of the officers, grabbed the female and forced her back inside the Nordstrom," said LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman.

SWAT officers surrounded the shopping center and closed off the area. After a couple of hours, they forced their way into the Nordstrom Rack at about 2 a.m. and found a group of hostages, 13 women and 1 man, huddled together and frightened. Police say they were all employees.

"The majority of them were in one location, a storage room in one part of the store," said Neiman.

Police confirmed that one female hostage was sexually assaulted. She was transported to a local hospital. One other person who was stabbed was treated and released at the scene. There were reports that a third person was pistol-whipped, but authorities could not confirm that information.

The robbery suspects are still at large. The hostages told police the suspects carried weapons. It is unclear what was stolen from the store, and police do not know how the suspects escaped.

"It's quite possible that at some point they were able to just slip out a side door or secrete themselves in an area," said Neiman. "It's a very large mall. There are a lot of entry points and exit points. By the time the officers had this place locked down, it's quite a potential. We don't know how they got out of the perimeter at this point."

Culver City Police said early Friday morning an abandoned white SUV was located in Culver City. It is similar to one seen speeding away from the crime scene. It was turned it over to the LAPD. It was located at Washington Place and Globe Avenue, but no one was inside. Police are examining the SUV to determine if it was the getaway vehicle.

Police found what appeared to be cellphones found near the abandoned vehicle.

It remains unclear why the suspects targeted the store. Police are trying to determine if any of the hostages knew the suspects.

Tara Darrow, a spokeswoman for Nordstrom Rack, said the store would re-open Monday. "We're taking the weekend to just recover, taking a few days just to have employees feel comfortable coming back to work.

"Stores in this area, there will be five Racks around this location that will actually have increased security presence, uniformed guards will be at those stores, and that's just about making people feel safe and secure when they visit our stores," said Darrow. "We certainly have procedures in place every day for how to address these types of situations."

The Rave Cinemas 18 + IMAX at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center was on lockdown during the hostage situation at Nordstrom Rack. Moviegoers were stuck inside the theater for more than six hours. They were offered the chance to watch free movies. Many said the real-life story unfolding outside was much more terrifying than anything on the big screen.

"It was just like shocking, because you come out and they're like, 'Uh, you can't leave to your cars because if you go outside, there's a possibility you're going to get shot because they have high-powered rifles at Nordstroms,'" said moviegoer Logan Kelly.

Investigators are in the process of reviewing surveillance videos. Howard Hughes Center was closed for much of Friday for the investigation. The center re-opened at about 6 p.m. Nordstrom Rack will remain closed until Monday.


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