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Bank robbed: Wal-Mart closes after heist inside store

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

COVINGTON -- For the second time in less than a week, a Covington bank was robbed, and this time it caused several hours of lost business and traffic snarls.

The United Bank branch location inside the Covington Wal-Mart was robbed by a short, middle-aged man about 2 p.m. Monday, according to Covington Police Department spokesman Lt. Wendell Wagstaff.

"He went up to the teller and basically told her he had a bomb. He had this plastic case with him, and she gave him the money and he exited the store," Wagstaff said.

As the man left the store, he threw down the device he claimed was a bomb, as well as a wig and a coat he was wearing at the time of the robbery. Those items were left in front of the soft drink machines across from the buggy return in the retail section of the store.

The so-called bomb required that the store be closed and evacuated.

"Anytime we have a situation where we don't know what the device is and the device is presented as a bomb, we take the necessary precautionary measures just as if it was the real thing," Wagstaff said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Bomb Squad was called to the scene with its robot, which was sent from the parking lot to the entrance of the store. Bomb Squad technicians were then able to determine the bomb threat was a hoax.

"It is just a plastic container with nothing in it," Wagstaff said from the scene about 4:30 p.m. Monday. He had earlier estimated that the store should be able to resume business as soon as the GBI gave the all clear, hopefully between 5 and 5:30 p.m.

Traffic was closed off from Hazelbrand Road to Ga. Highway 142, causing rush-hour detours for hundreds of cars.

About 100 Wal-Mart employees were evacuated from the store, and Wagstaff said at the time of the robbery the store was "packed" with customers. It took the better part of an hour to get everyone out and close the store about 3 p.m.

"A lot of customers were having prescriptions filled and people were having their hair permed. They were kinda upset, but what else were we going to do?" he said.

The perpetrator is described as a white man in his 50s or 60s, about 5 feet, 1 or 2 inches tall, who left in a pickup, believed to be a mid- to late 1990s gray or tan Chevrolet 1500 or 2500 series. There appeared to be some sort of debris, perhaps trash bags, in the back of the truck, as well as a large tool box. His direction of travel is unknown.

Wagstaff said his detectives were waiting to get back inside the store to retrieve video surveillance tape that they are hopeful will give them a more accurate description of the suspect and perhaps a tag number of the truck.

The suspect was seen sitting in front of the bank before the robbery, Wagstaff said.

"He hung out at the bank a little bit. (He) actually sat on the benches in front of the bank with one of those white dust masks over his face, a ball cap and a wig. A lot of people noticed him because he looked really odd," he said.

In addition to the Covington Police Department, representatives from numerous public safety agencies were on hand to assist, including the Covington Fire Department, Newton County EMS, the Georgia State Patrol, Newton County Emergency/Risk Management and Covington/Newton County 911.