Bank Robber Surrenders

Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's SWAT team gather next to a Cathay Bank in Alhambra, Calif. Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002. A robber claiming to have a gun took nine bank employees hostage Tuesday after demanding $50,000, authorities said.
A man demanding $50,000 and claiming to have a gun took nine employees hostage inside a bank Tuesday, but all were released or escaped and the robber finally surrendered.

The robber left the bank and was quickly surrounded by SWAT officers who rushed him away from the scene in handcuffs. He had begun negotiating his surrender when he was left alone in the bank more than six hours into the siege, said Sgt. David Nater.

"He was on the phone, kind of looked around, and realized he had no hostages," Nater said.

The last employees escaped, fleeing out the front and through a bathroom window, shortly before 4 p.m. while the robber spoke by telephone with negotiators. Others had been released during the day.

The man, believed to be in his 30s, entered Cathay Bank on North Atlantic Avenue not long after the branch opened, told employees he was armed and demanded the money, Nater said. No customers were in the bank at the time.

Bank employees gave him some money and then triggered a silent alarm. Several tellers also e-mailed colleagues at other branches, telling them a robbery was in progress, said Irwin Wong, the bank's executive vice president.

Police surrounded the bank within minutes, trapping the robber inside, Nater said.

Nater said the employees in the bank were used as intermediaries to communicate with police by telephone and e-mail throughout the day.

In messages sent during the ordeal, the hostages reported that everyone remained calm, Wong said.

When asked what message he had for his employees during the standoff, Wong said, "Cooperate, be patient and they'll all hopefully be out safe."

A four-block area surrounding the bank, about 16 miles east of Los Angeles, was cordoned off. Residents and shopkeepers were evacuated, Nater said. The suspect also demanded a ban on news helicopters in the area.

An FBI special weapons and tactics team, as well as a SWAT team from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, assisted police.

Wong said the Alhambra branch did not employee a security guard.

"It frustrates me, but I don't know what we can do. We've had banks with guards, they still get robbed," Wong said.

Cathay Bank, a subsidiary of Cathay Bancorp Inc. (CATY.O), describes itself a the first Chinese-American bank established in Los Angeles, and ranks as the fifth largest commercial bank in the area by assets.

The bank, which has 21 branches in California, New York and Texas, has carved out a niche in providing financial services for Chinese and Asian communities.

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