By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette — Police have taken two individuals into custody for falsely reporting an armed robbery and assault Thursday morning in North Tonawanda.
The hoax was perpetrated by an employee of CVS pharmacy and her boyfriend.
"We arrested the clerk, it was staged like a robbery, it was not a robbery," said Police Capt. Thomas Krantz.
The clerk, Kayla Hotaling, 23, 1426 Doebler Drive, and her purported boyfriend, Kevin Spellane-Newman, 24, 130 62nd St., Niagara Falls, are accused of coordinating the robbery at 7:50 a.m. inside the store at 955 Payne Ave. in Mid-City Plaza.
Police said Hotaling was the only employee in the store when the alleged robbery occurred, initially stating a white male had entered the establishment brandishing a handgun, forcing her to open a safe and hand over money, before commanding her to her knees and striking her in the back of the head, dazing her.
It was reported the suspect then fled the store in a southerly direction with an undisclosed sum of cash.
In a statement released Thursday evening, investigators say Hotaling, who was taken to DeGraff Memorial Hospital, later confessed to setting up the robbery with Spellane-Newman.
Spellane-Newman was arrested Thursday by Niagara Falls police for criminal possession of a controlled substance. Upon his release, North Tonawanda police will charge him with third-degree grand larceny, a D-Felony, fifth-degree conspiracy and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Hotaling, already in police custody, has been charged with third-degree grand larceny, fifth-degree conspiracy and third-degree falsely reporting an incident.
The apparent ruse sent city police and Niagara County Sheriff's deputies on a citywide search for the suspect, including the utilization of a helicopter that scoured fields in the Ridge Road area, and sent two nearby schools into lockout mode, which prohibited anyone from entering North Tonawanda High School and Meadow Elementary School without proper identification. The precautionary measures were lifted at 9:45 a.m.
School Superintendent Greg Woytila said he received a call from police moments after the theft, and proceeded to send out an automated message through the district's Global Connect System informing parents of the status.
Students at the high school were already inside the building when the incident took place, Woytila said, though elementary school pupils were still arriving, causing a tense scene amid tight security, as they were shuffled into the building from school buses as deputies, educators and administrators stood watch.
"The kids were already on route to the elementary school," Woytila said, adding that some of the students were aware of the robbery as they entered the building.
Mike DeAngelis, a corporate spokesperson for CVS, said in a telephone interview the employee, now known to be Hotaling, was treated and released from the hospital, while the incident closed the store for a "short period of time." Police searched the area for several hours and continue to interview possible witnesses and review video surveillance.
Anyone with additional information on the case can call the North Tonawanda Police Department at 692-4312.
Jill Keppeler contributed reporting.