Law enforcement officers are searching for a pair of armed suspects who allegedly took a family hostage after robbing a casino early Friday morning. Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott said the two men remain on the loose, and that authorities believe they were picked up in a vehicle by a third accomplice.
The family members were recovered and are unharmed.
The incident started when the men robbed Deano’s Casino on West Harrier Drive at gunpoint around 3:30 a.m., and left in a car they had stolen by taking the keys from inside the casino.
McDermott said the family, which is from Washington, was getting gas at the travel plaza and saw the robbery. When they left they called 911, and were asked to pull over and wait for an officer to come. Cpt. Tony Rio said the family believed the suspects already had driven away and they were safe, but that after they pulled over their doors were pulled open and the men took the occupants hostage in their SUV.
As a chase began with law enforcement, officers were able to speak with the suspects using one of the family member’s cellphones. The men demanded police pull back, or they would shoot members of the family. During the chase they stopped twice, the first time to let the family’s 12-year-old boy out, the second time to release a 14-year-old girl and the grandmother, but would not release the parents.
“It was rough on them, letting their children out, having to give them a kiss goodbye and not knowing if they are going to see them again,” McDermott said.
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McDermott said the mother of the family was driving at the start of the chase, but eventually one of the suspects took over and the chase reached high speeds through the city.
Near the intersection of Brooks Street and Dore Lane, the SUV made a u-turn and the men fired at pursuing officers. Law enforcement, which had pulled back, lost sight of the vehicle in downtown Missoula.
Around 5:20 a.m., the parents and their vehicle were found near Evaro Hill on U.S. Highway 93. They men had fled on foot. McDermott said law enforcement used a K9 unit, which tracked the men to another section of the highway. He said the family told detectives the suspects were making plans with a third party on a cellphone to be picked up in that area.
Law enforcement says the suspects are a white, possibly Hispanic male, 19- to 25-year-old male who was last seen wearing a dark hat, a hoodie with a white design on it and dark pants. The other suspect is described as an African-American male, 19 to 25 years old, with short black hair who was last seen wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants, as well as sunglasses and a bandanna.
Detective Glenville Kedie said the men attempted to disable the surveillance system when they entered the casino and he was working with the business to recover any footage.
The suspects should be considered armed and dangerous, and anyone with information on their location or identity is asked to call 911 or Crimestoppers at 406-728-4444.