'What were they waiting for?' Woman inside Saanich bank amid shootout describes 'calm' gunmen
A woman who was trapped inside a bank during a robbery and fatal shootout with police near Victoria on Tuesday says there is one question still plaguing her a day later: Why didn't the gunmen just leave with the money?
Both suspects were shot and killed, and six police officers were wounded in the ensuing exchange of gunfire Tuesday morning.
Shelli Fryer, a 59-year-old retiree from Langford, B.C., had a meeting with the bank manager about a loan at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
She parked her Ford Bronco next to the Bank of Montreal on Shelbourne Street in Saanich, B.C., and walked into the manager's glass-walled office.
"We had spoken for probably two minutes and all of a sudden there's a loud boom, like the loudest explosion," she recalled Wednesday.
"And then it's dead silence," she said. "And the manager said, 'We're being robbed.' He knew right away and went and grabbed the key."
'THE ENERGY FROM THEM WAS COMPLETELY CALM'
Approximately 22 were people inside the bank, all but a handful of them employees, said Fryer, who had called in to Victoria radio station CFAX 1070 on Wednesday morning to express her gratitude for the police response before speaking with CTV News.
"I look around and I can see that everyone has gotten down on the floor," she recalled. "And I look up in the doorway and not even two feet away from me is a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle."
The gunman was wearing black clothing from head-to-toe, with an armoured vest over his jacket, and holding a black rifle that was "shorter and stockier" than what Fryer is used to seeing in popular media, she told CTV News.
The suspect's face was completely covered, including his eyes and mouth. "He's holding an assault rifle pointed up at the ceiling and not saying a word," Fryer said.
"The energy from them was completely calm," she added. "When they did speak it was with calm voices."
She heard the nearest gunman quietly say one word to the manager – "vault" – and the manager handed him the keys, she said.
"He pointed and the manager just came with him, walked out and left me there in his office."
'I GRABBED THE PHONE AND CALLED 911'
The other assailant was pacing the floor, speaking intermittently "with a very soft voice, almost whispering," she said. "Just walking back and forth past the office I was in like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something."
Fryer waited for the gunman to pass by the office door and then she reached for her cellphone.
"I grabbed the phone and called 911," she said.
The panicked woman whispered into the phone that armed robbers were inside the bank "and then I just left it with an open line."
One of the assailants then instructed everyone in the bank to move towards a rear hallway, she said.
"I was trying to hide," Fryer said. "I guess he saw me because he stood there and motioned with a hand gesture and I got up."
She slid her phone away and followed him into the back hallway. "Everyone was standing there lined up against the wall where you could not now see anything that was going on."
There she waited with the others for what felt like an eternity, she said.
"It was just dead silent the whole time," she said. "We heard nothing at all. No sirens. We did not know what was going on and then it was announced in a loud voice: 'Police!'"
Fryer said the air suddenly cracked with a "hail of gunfire" and she ran to an adjacent room that houses safety deposit boxes and hid under a shelf.
'WHAT WERE THEY WAITING FOR?'
Most of the other captives ran into a nearby filing room, she said.
They waited for approximately an hour, she believes, until heavily-armed police entered and instructed everyone to stay put until the bank was cleared.
Two of the six officers who suffered gunshot wounds during the robbery underwent surgery late Tuesday while a third also remained in hospital Wednesday morning. The other three members of Greater Victoria's emergency response team have been released following treatment for gunshot wounds, according to Saanich police.
Fryer said she is still haunted by the "eerie energy" of the armed suspects, who she believes had managed to rob the bank but seemed in no rush to leave.
"I just don’t know what they wanted. What were they waiting for?" she pondered. "They had got all the money. They could have just taken the money and left right away. They would have been in and out before the police got there."
Saanich police Chief Const. Dean Duthie said the emergency response team happened to be near the bank when the report of the armed robbery came in, hastening their arrival on scene to confront the suspects.
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