Two furniture outlet employees did everything right Sunday when confronted by robbers but were shot after a burglar alarm apparently startled the intruders, a Howard County police spokesman and the store's manager said yesterday.
"They complied with all the demands of the two guys, but unfortunately it was fate," said Rob Drinkard, distribution manager at the Scan furniture outlet center in the 9400 block of Gerwig Lane in the Guilford Industrial Center near Columbia's Owen Brown village. "It seems like the guys got spooked when the alarm went off and shot them."
The employees -- Arthur Thomas Weigle, 37, of Temple Hills and Montgomery Fitzgerald Walker, 24, of Silver Spring -- remained in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore yesterday. They were flown there by a state police MedEvac helicopter Sunday night.
Mr. Weigle, who was shot in the back, was in serious but stable condition yesterday afternoon, a hospital spokesman said. Mr. Walker, who was shot in the chest, was in critical but stable condition.
Howard County police Sgt. Steven Keller and Mr. Drinkard had nothing but praise yesterday for the actions of the two wounded employees, saying the shooting as they closed down the Scan outlet about 5:20 p.m. Sunday appeared to be simply a matter of bad luck.
"They did exactly everything that could have been done," Sergeant Keller said. "They came out together, which is the right way to close up a store for the day."
Mr. Drinkard said the employees followed Scan's standard directions to comply completely with any demands made during robberies.
"We tell our employees to give it up. Help them load up their car with furniture if that's what they want, because furniture can be replaced," Mr. Drinkard said.
Mr. Drinkard said he found it odd that robbers would target the furniture outlet center for cash, because the store typically has very little of it on hand. "Who can afford to buy furniture these days, except on credit?" he asked.
Police reported yesterday no new suspects or significant leads as the furniture distribution center cleaned up and went on with business.
The attempted armed robbery and shooting began when two masked men jumped out from the side of the building and confronted the two employees as they were leaving work, police said. Mr. Weigle and Mr. Walker had just locked up the building and set the burglar alarm for the night.
The two robbers -- at least one armed with a handgun -- ordered the employees back into the store and demanded to know the location of the cash register, police said. The employees said the cash register already had been emptied, and the robbers ordered the employees to lie on the floor and tell them the location of the safe.
As the employees were answering, the building's burglar alarm sounded, police said. One of the robbers then shot each employee once and fled. One or both of the employees may have been lying on the floor when they were shot, police said.
Though wounded, Mr. Weigle was able to call 911. He described the robbers as black males wearing dark shirts, blue jeans and masks.
Police have been hampered in their investigation by the medical condition of the two employees, Sergeant Keller said.
Police were able to interview Mr. Weigle -- a 12-year employee of the company -- only once before he underwent surgery late Sunday night to remove the bullet from his back. Mr. Walker -- a five-year employee -- was not in good enough condition to be interviewed.
Howard police were not aware yesterday of any recent similar crimes in the county, Sergeant Keller said. Investigators were checking with neighboring counties yesterday to find whether any had reported similar robberies.
At Scan yesterday, the outlet center -- which is open Friday through Sunday -- was closed, but business went on as usual at the distribution center.
Police tape and scattered remnants from the police investigation lay in a bundle in front of the outlet center in the morning.
By early afternoon, a professional crime scene cleanup company had arrived and cleared away almost all of the signs of the shooting. "You've got to go on with life," Mr. Drinkard said.
The company will try to improve security by the time the outlet center opens for business again Friday, Mr. Drinkard said.
Although the two Scan employees were shot after complying with the robbers, Sergeant Keller still recommended that any would-be victims follow all demands.
"People should still comply," he said. "This is just an odd case, different from most that we have."