The robbery attempt, hostage situation and sniper fire brought a bustling suburban area lined with chain restaurants, hotels, an outdoor mall and office buildings to a terrifying halt around lunchtime Tuesday as the Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded with tools including a robotic dog, drones, a battering ram and a SWAT team.
The sheriff didn't say where the sniper shot from, but SWAT members had surrounded the bank. Video on the sheriff's office Facebook page shows several deputies standing, rifles raised, near an entrance to the bank alongside a negotiator who talks with the man seconds before a shot rings out. Other video from outside the bank shows a deputy being raised in a platform with an armored front loader.
"I didn't even know the county had this," local radio host Charlie Lopez — who observed the scene as he got lunch near the Bank of America branch — told Fox 4 News. He watched the sniper shooting from his car and provided details to his Facebook followers.
“You see, in the video, it almost looks like they lift up the sniper in the air,” he said. "Then they have a battering ram. I’ve never experienced seeing all of Lee County’s arsenal. They had drones, they had cameras.”
Law enforcement officers stormed the scene shortly after the call came in about a bank robbery south of Fort Myers, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said at a news conference.
Deputies rushed into the multistory building that houses the bank, securing it as dozens of terrified people ran outside, said Marceno, who described it as “a chaotic scene.”
“Quickly we were face to face with a male suspect who was armed with a knife,” Marceno said. “He also claimed he had a bomb. He had two hostages at this point, and we tried to negotiate with him continuously."
Then the man inside the bank grabbed the woman and put the knife to her throat.
“When he presented deadly force like that, our SWAT sniper shot and killed the suspect," Marceno said. “We were in fear for her life and her safety.”
The attempted robber was identified as Sterling Ramon Alavache. Authorities did not immediately confirm whether he had a bomb, as he had claimed.
The deputy was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation, which is normal department policy.
Brett Sands told NBC 2 he works on the fifth floor of the building for a consulting firm.
“It wasn’t until the police came and started banging on doors that we realized that it was something more serious than just someone coming and threatening to rob the bank," Sands said, adding that he and others had to take an Uber home because their car was still behind yellow police tape.