Two men armed with an assault rifle and a shotgun ordered grocery store employees and shoppers to the floor at a Columbia Giant Tuesday night before ransacking the store office and making off with an undetermined amount of cash.
Howard County police said the robbers, wearing ski masks, forced two employees and four customers to the floor of the Giant at the Wilde Lake Village Center at about 10:50 p.m, 10 minutes before closing time.
The man with the rifle guarded those on the floor while the other man kicked down the office door and took money from the cash drawers inside, police said. Both men fled in a reddish sport utility vehicle in the direction of Twin Rivers Road.
No one was injured.
Tuesday night's incident is the latest in a string of armed robberies and robbery attempts in Columbia. One Pizza Boli's delivery driver and a gas station clerk in Oakland Mills were held up at gunpoint this week, and a second driver for the same pizza shop was the victim of an attempted holdup.
On New Year's Day, a 30-year-old driver for Papa John's was robbed of $20 and shot in the jaw at close range outside a Harper's Choice apartment complex after she tried to escape.
Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman, did not say whether Tuesday night's grocery store robbery was related to the others.
A spokesman for Giant, Barry F. Scher, said the company will re-evaluate the security at its Columbia locations - as it does after any security breach. The Wilde Lake store, which uses electronic surveillance and plainclothes security officers, turned over a videotape to police, he said.
Some merchants in the Wilde Lake Village Center have become increasingly concerned about safety. Two of the setup calls to pizza shops were placed from a pay phone outside the Crown gas station behind the Wilde Lake Giant.
A 26-year-old clerk at that station said she will work only day shifts because she doesn't feel safe at night - even though customers have to pay through a window between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
"Why wouldn't they come in here?" the clerk said of the robbers. "[The crime] is so close to home now."
Police do not have detailed descriptions of the robbers.
Crime has become a focal point in several villages over the past several months. Harper's Choice had two near-fatal shootings in September, and residents, officials and police there have established a community task force to deal with safety issues.
Activists and officials in Oakland Mills plan to have the inaugural organizational meeting of their
anti-crime task force Wednesday at The Other Barn. That village was the site of a gun battle in November that left one man wounded.
Officials for the Columbia Association, which serves as the unofficial government for Columbia's 87,000 residents, said yesterday that incidents such as the Giant robbery are rare in Columbia, but that no community is completely crime-free.
"Columbia is not an island," said association President Deborah O. McCarty. McCarty has a meeting on safety scheduled next week with county police and the head of Columbia Management Inc., a Rouse Co. division that provides security in the village centers.
The Columbia Council, an elected body that governs the Columbia Association, has resurrected a public safety committee to address security issues citywide, but Norma Rose, council chairwoman, said community interest has not been overwhelming.
"I can't say that this makes it more urgent, I wouldn't say that," said Rose, who represents Wilde Lake. "I think we're already aware that we live in an urbanized area, and that we're not immune."
But an employee of another store at the Wilde Lake Village Center, who asked not to be named, said crime has become commonplace near the center.
"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "I'm waiting for the gas station - they're next. I don't like this area. This is [like] Baltimore."