LUMBERTON, NC (WMBF) – A massive manhunt is underway for four suspects who robbed a Lumberton bank Tuesday afternoon and opened fire on law enforcement officers during a vehicle chase through two North Carolina counties, according to Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey.
Around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the PNC Bank branch in Lumberton was robbed. Sealey said police officers, sheriff's deputies and troopers with the N.C. Highway Patrol then started pursuing the suspects who fled in a grey Saturn.
The vehicle chase went from Lumberton into the unincorporated areas of Robeson County, and then into Columbus County, he added. The suspects reportedly fired their weapons at law enforcement and several patrol cars were hit. One officer returned fire, however it is not known if any of the suspects were hit.
"We were blessed. Nobody got injured," Sealey said.
The suspects exited the vehicle in different spots along Old Whiteville Road in both Robeson and Columbus Counties, the FBI confirms.
"I've never seen so many cops, Robeson County cops, state patrol. I actually seen a Lumberton Police Department out here, which was completely odd to me because it's out of city limits, but helicopters, probably about two, and the manhunt went on for about, probably I would say, maybe 12 to 13 hours." resident Davis Powers said.
As of Wednesday night, a manhunt was still taking place for the suspects. Local, state and federal authorities continued to search the wooded areas along Old Whiteville Rd. They used drones, helicopters and K-9 teams in the woods attempting to track down the suspects. Sealey said the FBI, highway patrol and numerous area law enforcement agencies were searching three different areas across Robeson and Columbus counties for the suspects.
"I went to work this morning at 4am and the cops were still at the store and the church and the mobile command center still looking," resident Ronald Britt said.
Some residents in the area with security cameras were questioned to see if their cameras caught anything. Sherry James, a resident that lives along the road, said her son's school was put on lockdown as a safety precaution.
"I was on Facebook earlier and I did notice there was a lockdown on East Robeson. I was concerned about that; my son does go there," James said.
While authorities continue to work the case, residents believe they're in the right hands.
"As far as when I heard that they come down in this area and off in the woods, I really weren't concerned because I've got a lot of confidence in the police officers around this area" James said.
Thurman Ward, whose fiancé works at the bank, said he was at the barbershop when his significant other called to tell him about the robbery.
Ward said he rushed over to the bank and found that police had it barricaded.
"I was trying to see what was going on. The most important thing to me was to see if she was all right. She was hysterical. I'm glad that she's okay," Ward said.
As law enforcement continues their search, Sealey asked that residents don't answer their doors for people they don't know and call law enforcement if they see anyone suspicious in their neighborhoods.
The Robeson County Sheriff's Office, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Fayetteville Police Department, New Brunswick County Sheriff's Office, Columbus County Sheriff's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are assisting in the investigation and ongoing manhunt.