A man armed with a pistol robbed two East Broadway businesses early Thursday before slipping from sight, prompting schools across Missoula to lock their doors and the University of Montana to cancel classes and lock students, faculty and staff inside buildings for three hours.

With temperatures steady at minus 17 degrees, officers with the Missoula Police Department responded to reports of the first robbery at the Motel 6 at 9:20 a.m.

Travis Welsh, public information officer with MPD, said the suspect demanded cash while brandishing a black semi-automatic pistol. He fled on foot, prompting police to focus their initial search along the icy streets of downtown Missoula.

At the time of the robbery, the suspect was wearing a red Hellgate High School letterman jacket bearing the name “Jennifer.” The man, described as white and 5 feet 5 inches tall, fled wearing plastic bags over his shoes, dark sunglasses and a light-colored bandanna.

About 21 minutes later, with officers still searching the area, reports of a second robbery came in from Taco Bell, across Broadway from the motel. Officers converged on the restaurant with weapons drawn, missing the suspect by a matter of minutes.

Welsh said the suspect in the second robbery wore a blue hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and dark shoes. He also brandished a black pistol, prompting schools across the city to lock their doors and shelter students as police launched a citywide manhunt.

“Though it has not been confirmed, it is believed that both robberies were carried out by the same suspect,” Welsh said. “A perimeter was established and officers conducted a ground search that consisted of going door to door in the immediate area.”

Descriptions of the suspect also matched that of escaped rapist Kevin Briggs, who fled custody in Gallatin County last Sunday and has ties to Missoula, further heightening tensions. UM and Missoula police had issued an alert late Wednesday, warning that Briggs could be in the area.

Briggs’ criminal record includes convictions for rape and kidnapping, and for two previous escapes from jail. He is 5 feet 5 inches tall, 150 pounds, with a medium build, brown hair and blue eyes.

***

As Missoula police combed alleys, gas station bathrooms and surrounding neighborhoods Thursday morning – chasing one alleged sighting after another – administrators at the University of Montana activated the school’s emergency response system.

The suspect had allegedly been sighted near campus.

“With a possible sighting being that close to campus, we thought it would be a good idea to initiate a lockdown proceeding rather than just a notification, given the proximity near campus and the severity of a man with a gun,” said interim UM Police Chief Marty Ludemann.

University students were asked to shelter in place. The lockdown went into effect about 9:45 a.m. and remained active for nearly three hours.

UM President Royce Engstrom said school administrators went to their assigned posts upon notification. Vice President of Administration and Finance Mike Reid moved to the Office of Public Safety, while other administrators assembled at Main Hall.

Engstrom said officials notified the campus through repeated text messages, emails and direct calls to fraternity and sorority houses. The emergency announcement was also posted on the university’s website, as well as its Facebook page.

“We activated our emergency response plan immediately,” Engstrom said. “Buildings were locked by our officers who went around campus.”

Missoula County Public Schools initiated similar measures. The district emailed parents, informing them of the suspect’s sighting in the general Hellgate High School neighborhood.

For a short time, police cordoned off streets between Hellgate High and the university campus.

“Administration has declared a lock-in procedure for the high school,” one text message from the district read. “Administrators are positioned at the doors and they will keep students in the building. We will keep you updated as we receive information.”

The district issued the lockdown to eight facilities at roughly 10 a.m., including both Hellgate and Sentinel high schools. Rattlesnake, Paxson, Lowell, and Lewis and Clark elementary schools were also affected, as well as Washington Middle School.

“We took precautions primarily because of the warnings we were receiving from MPD,” said Hatton Littman, MCPS spokeswoman. “When they say an armed suspect is fleeing in the vicinity of our schools, we take those procedures. Luckily, students were safe and their education was not interrupted.”

Missoula Catholic Schools locked the doors of Loyola Sacred Heart High School and St. Joseph Elementary School as well.

Area businesses also took precautions, with a few locking their doors and others advising employees to take heed. St. Patrick Hospital posted extra security at its doors, and alerted staff of the situation. Police officers visited local gas stations and searched for the suspect in bathrooms.

The suspect remains at large.

​Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at newsdesk@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5240

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(19) comments

Leadfoot

If this is the escaped rapist from Bozeman police custody, he is no dummy. Give him credit. This is his THIRD, count that 3rd, escape from police custody over his 11 years of flirting with the police. Convicted Rapist at 17. Now, 28 years old. 5'5" with brown hair, who looks identical to the surveillance tapes of the robbers. Even if he is caught, count on a judge to let him out on bail. He also will be convicted of 3-4 counts. The judge will let them run concurrently so that this misunderstood ADULT of 28 years can be out of jail quickly so that he can break parole. Montana.

J555-5

Oh for a couple police department drones to search for this guy. Not the missile shooting ones although maybe little missiles would be OK. Maybe just equipped with cameras.

Business is Business
Business is Business

When exactly did we start locking down the city in response to a taco stand getting knocked off?

goodneighbor

that's what I'd like to know! Why put schools on lockdown and shut down the city? Wouldn't an APB have been sufficient? geez, pretty pathetic that one guy participating in a robbery causes the whole machine to shut down! I wonder if that's how they do it in the big cities? I really doubt it or the city would always be locked down

Sheepdawg

Thought for sure they would have caught him by now.

Miss Perfect

Why tote an AR 15 around the Taco Bell parking lot? Last thing anyone wants to see is another civilian shot because Luke the Law thought he saw something. Moronic......

PG

They're' probably "toting" a AR15s around the Taco Bell parking lot because the robber in this was armed. What the hell do you expect them to respond to an armed robber with? Pepper spray?? What a "moronic" comment... get a reality check.

letsroll

This comment is "Moronic". These police officers were doing there job. I hope you never need them to help you.

whitelandia
whitelandia

lol i no loner live in Missoula. I know the area and wonder where the police are? wait if its the bozeman rapist. He will not get caught. Missoula police do not catch rapists. the will recruit him for the griz football team.

walter12

Apparently it was not two but only one kid that is smarter than they thought he was. One lone kid and they cannot catch him, come on police get with it.

COMMON SENSE
COMMON SENSE

"Officers responding to the second robbery at Taco Bell blocked East Broadway as they converged on the building with weapons drawn, missing the suspect by a matter of moments."

Sounds to me like they either had a vehicle waiting nearby or are/were holed up someplace close.

Not4Nothin
Not4Nothin

There are 68,000 stories in the city. This has been one of them.
[BUM - BUM - BUM - BUM]

montanamuralist
montanamuralist

Good response but don't you suppose after 3 hours they might have fled the area you have blocked off? Hopefully they catch this guy ( bet it is the escaped rapist from Butte...just a hunch) without anyone being harmed...

Richy

Bozeman. He escaped from Bozeman

Richy

The surveillance video looks like it might be Justin Bieber. He's on a real roll this week

Bittersweet
Bittersweet

Initially I got a laugh out of your Bieber comment.....and then I thought "hrrrmmmmmmm???...."

bl91

And you have a hunch that he is an escaped rapist from Butte why???

familytruckster

Wow. Nice response. You guys got it right this time.

walter12

With two guys as stupid as these two, you would think that the cops could catch them.

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