By Vinny Muto
Niagara Gazette — Police are now focusing their attention on three armed suspects who are believed to be responsible for a recent robbery spree.
Police are still collecting evidence, examining fingerprints and looking over surveillance footage from the three Niagara Falls businesses that were targeted late last month. While only one of the establishments suffered any real financial loss, the fearful memories still linger in the minds of the victims.
“(T)wo guys with masks walk in very casually and raise these huge guns,” recalled an employee named Nick, who works at Frenchy’s Pizzeria, which was targeted by the robbers on Oct. 23. “As soon as they raised the guns, my instincts took over, and I turned around and sprinted out the door as fast as I could. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t breathe as I ran out the back door and down the street. I was terrified.”
In fact, all three of the pizzeria employees instantly turned around and ran out the back door of the Niagara Street restaurant, leaving the robbers confused with no idea what they should do. So they ended up leaving and took nothing.
Frenchy’s was the final business to be targeted in the robbery spree. Two days prior, a man with a handgun robbed the nearby Dairy Queen on Niagara Street, getting away with nearly $3,000. And the following night, on Oct. 22, two masked men, one armed with a long gun similar to the ones described in the case of the pizzeria, robbed the 7-Eleven on Pine Avenue of a measly $35.
Similarities in these cases, in addition to how close together each crime was committed, have led police to think that these robberies were connected. At first police believed there were only two suspects, but now detectives are focusing their attentions solely on gathering evidence against the three purported suspects.
“Captain (William) Thomson, who is leading the investigation, feels that there will be arrests made in upcoming weeks,” said Deputy Police Superintendent Kelly Rizzo.
In the process, police have interviewed numerous witnesses and victims of the robberies, though Frenchy’s Pizzeria employees were only within the vicinity of the robbers for brief seconds before fleeing — a fact that the employees now can laugh at.
“As I am walking to the front counter, before I even could put my (pizza delivery) slips in my box, I see these two guys in masks. As soon as I see them, they raised their guns. When I saw that, I instantly turned around and sprinted out the back door like lightning,” employee Joe recalled with a chuckle. “As soon as I got through the door, I leaped over the 8-foot fence that was blocking my way from getting into the yard next door. I felt like Superman. My adrenaline was pumping so hard from what I saw; I swear it gave me super powers. This was the scariest thing I have encountered (or) been a part of in my entire life.”
As the two the masked men stood there holding their guns, which police believe were rifles or possibly shotguns, the customers at the front counter just stood there with their hands in the air, frightened and frozen. They didn’t move at all. They didn’t say a word.
No one was physically attacked or injured in any of the robberies, though the robbers did sufficiently scare employees at 7-Eleven and Dairy Queen into handing over the cash.
“Put your hands up, (expletive),” one of the masked robbers told a 7-Eleven employee as he pointed his rifle at an employee’s face, according to police reports. “Don’t press any buttons and give me all the money in the register.”
The 7-Eleven employees told responding officers they removed precisely $35 from the register and gave it to the robbers. When contacted for this story, 7-Eleven employees refused to comment on the robbery.
Dairy Queen employees similarly refused comment. “We cannot disclose any information about the investigation at this time,” one worker stated when contacted via telephone.
According to police reports, it was approximately 10:40 a.m. on Oct. 21 when a lone robber entered the Niagara Street Dairy Queen and held up the store’s owner, who was sitting at one of the booths. The suspect, who was wearing a white bandana over his face, approached the owner and said, “Give me the money.”
The robber had a black semiautomatic handgun, which he was holding near his waistline but never pointed it at the man. He ended up getting away with all the money the owner was carrying, which totaled about $3,000.
The suspect then fled out the rear door toward the alley between 25th and 26th streets. The New York State Police Canine Unit also responded to the scene and searched the area with no results.
Though the number of suspects who entered the businesses and the types of guns used may have been different in the robberies, police still believe all three incidents are related. Last week, police said that they expect to make arrests in these cases within the next two to three weeks.
In general, the number of robberies in the city of Niagara Falls is high compared to the national average. Niagara Falls had 174 robberies in 2011, which is 345 robberies per 100,000 people, compared to the U.S. average of 115, according to city-data.com.
Anyone with any information is asked to call Niagara Falls Police Department at 286-4553 or 286-4711.Vinny Muto and Justin Rybacki are Niagara University students. Additional reporting by Niagara University students Alexa Nicoletti, Quan Tran and Montanna Valler.