Baltimore police exchange gunfire with two armed suspects at a downtown Baltimore convenience store in the 300 block of North Charles Street. (Baltimore Sun video)
Two suspects remained at large late Tuesday after exchanging gunfire with Baltimore police officers during an overnight robbery of a downtown 7-Eleven, then escaping on foot as the officers took cover.
The incident, which occurred about 1:10 a.m., rattled the neighborhood as residents heard — and some witnessed — the gun battle play out from their apartments above the 300 block of N. Charles St. They awoke to see evidence markers up and down the block, where one of the suspects had continued exchanging fire with officers as he ran down the street.
“This is a situation that is absolutely disturbing,” said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, as he showed surveillance footage Tuesday afternoon of the suspects and officers firing at each other at close range at the store’s entrance. “It’s an absolute blessing we don’t have an officer shot.”
“Downtown has come such a long way, and attracted literally thousands of residents within three blocks of this intersection,” said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership. “We can’t let this type of incident stand.”
Officers responded to the store — which was also robbed Friday, and three times last year — after Citiwatch personnel monitoring the location noticed two men “casing” the store, then going in and announcing a robbery.
The officers arrived within a minute, and the suspects ran to a rear door before returning to the front door, according to footage released by police from the Citiwatch camera, a camera inside the store and an officer’s body camera.
Just as the suspects rushed back toward the front door, three officers swung the door open, and at least one officer and one suspect fired at each other at close range.
Smith said the suspect is believed to have been using a TEC-9 pistol with an extended magazine, and it was “absolute sheer amazement that none of these officers took a bullet in this doorway.”
The two clerks inside the store also were uninjured. Police said they did not know if the suspects were injured, though they found no physical evidence of an injury and no gunshot victims at local hospitals.
The suspects left the store through the front door and then fled in different directions as the officers took cover, Smith said. He said he did not know exactly how many shots were fired.
Police said the suspects took less than $100 in the robbery.
John Leppler, 28, an attorney who lives above the 7-Eleven on the second floor, said he and his girlfriend were awakened by gunfire. At first, he thought it was a dream, he said. Then he looked outside.
“It was literally right outside our window,” he said. “I saw the guns fired by the police officers and saw them sprinting up the street.”
He did not see any suspects, he said.
“It was kind of disbelief, to be honest with you. Definitely scary,” he said. “Baltimore City's finest, right here, in a serious gunfight.”
The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have offered a $24,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
The three Central District patrol officers who fired shots — a 4-year veteran and two 3-year veterans of the force — are on routine administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation. The officers were not identified.
Jessica McPeters, 25, a server at a Horseshoe Casino restaurant who also lives in the building and was awoken by the gunfire, said the robbery was “disappointing” and the trend of robberies at the store disconcerting.
Not long ago, she said, she was shoved while walking into the 7-Eleven by suspects rushing out of the store after stealing cigarettes.
“We want to move now, honestly. We thought this was a decent area, which it is. I don’t feel unsafe,” she said. “But we won’t go to the 7-Eleven at night anymore, which is unfortunate.”
Bill King, president of the City Center Residents Association, said the robbery and gunfire was “very upsetting” but “not unexpected given the trend over the last six months or so that we’ve seen right in the heart of the city.”
King’s group formed recently to be a voice for the many residents of new apartments in the area. He said crime has to be kept in control for that growth to continue.
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“We’re going to have so many more people trying to live here,” he said. “We really have to pair it up with a bigger focus on crime fighting.”
Fowler agreed, noting the Downtown Partnership began funding police overtime downtown at the end of 2016 and private security guards at the end of last year.
Naomi Alfred, who manages the 7-Eleven building for the Bay Management Group, said she had heard from residents complaining that this was not the first time the store has been robbed, “which is unfortunately the norm here in Baltimore City, which is just horrible,” she said.
In October, a Northeast Baltimore patrol officer fatally shot 20-year-old Eric Garrison as Garrison left a 7-Eleven in the city with a shotgun in hand. The officer, Kevin Amy, had pulled up out front of the store just as the robbery was occurring.
Smith said officers are trained to confront armed gunmen because they have learned from past shootings that “when we sit back and wait and allow armed gunmen to have civilians as hostages, they sometimes hurt those civilians.