MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) An armed robbery suspect was fatally shot by police on a football field at Montpelier High School Tuesday morning. And it all happened while class was in session.
It started with an alleged armed robbery at a credit union in Montpelier. Police say at about 9:30 a.m., a man held up the Vermont State Employees Credit Union on Bailey Avenue. Employees and members were in the branch but no one was hurt. The suspect fled on foot toward Montpelier High School where he was confronted by police.
That's when WCAX News arrived on scene and started rolling our cameras. Our crew watched from a few hundred yards away for about a half hour. During that time, troopers had the suspect surrounded. Eventually, they saw him get closer and closer to police, who then opened fire.
Tense moments during a standoff on the grounds of Montpelier High School. Our cameras captured video of a suspect armed with a gun in the middle of snow-covered bleachers on the football field. He eventually moved toward the middle of the field as Vermont State Police tactical teams and negotiators arrived.
From a distance, it appeared the suspect-- dressed in all black-- was engaged in conversation. He was seen holding a handgun, and at times, waving it around.
Eventually, the suspect walks closer to troopers who were armed with rifles. Then, he makes a slight turn but does not appear to aim his gun at police, and that's when he goes down. Our camera was far away, so we hear the gunshots slightly delayed.
"What's important is that the threat is over. There was a shooting involving law enforcement. And the suspect is deceased," Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said.
The fatal conclusion came after police were held at bay for about an hour. The suspect is seen still moving in the moments after being shot. Still with guns drawn, police cautiously approach before taking him into custody.
"We are treating this as an officer-involved shooting and will investigate it as such at this point," Vt. State Police Col. Matthew Birmingham said.
State Police say no officers were hurt.
The suspect was taken by ambulance from the scene as the investigation began.
Investigators remained on scene well into the afternoon. Tuesday evening, they were still keeping people off of the field where the suspect was shot.
A SCARY DAY FOR MONTPELIER HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, STAFF
It was a scary day for students and staff at Montpelier High School.
At about 9:45 a.m., school officials were notified the suspect in the armed robbery at the credit union across the street had fled onto school grounds and was standing on the bleachers of the football field.
"The decision was made to initiate a procedure called lockdown lockout. Since the suspect was contained entirely outside the building, the safest place for our faculty students and staff was inside the building," Montpelier School Superintendent Brian Ricca said.
Driver's Ed Teacher Ron Allen's students were caught up in the action unable to return to school. They got a two-hour extended lesson.
"Came back and we saw lines and lines of police cars-- all blue lights forever," Allen said.
School continued after the gunfire erupted with a schoolwide assembly.
"We are going to try to have a reasonably normal remainder of the school day," Ricca said.
But after what unfolded outside, students say it was anything but normal.
Reporter Alexei Rubenstein: Was that disturbing to have that happen on your campus?
Isabel Maine-Torres/Student: I was kind of surprised. I really didn't think that would ever happen. Yeah, a little bit definitely.
The school was able to get out two recorded announcements to parents-- one about an hour after the incident started and another after the lockdown ended. Parents we spoke to said their number one feeling was one of relief that the incident took place outside.
"It's very frightening," parent Mylany Graves said. "When I found out that my son was fine and everyone was in lockdown and wasn't inside the building, I was much calmer-- but still nervous."
Parents we spoke to said they were pleased with the communication that the school provided and felt confident about the lockdown procedures the school took. Still, they were clearly shaken to have had this kind of thing happen in the school's backyard in the heart Montpelier on a weekday morning.
No other city schools were affected.
GOVERNOR REFERS QUESTIONS TO STATE POLICE
The Vermont Statehouse is also just steps from the credit union and the high school. We wanted to talk to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott about the shooting but he referred us to the State Police.
SUSPECT HAS EXTENSIVE CRIMINAL HISTORY
WCAX News has learned the identity of the suspect but we have chosen not to broadcast it yet-- at the request of police-- since not all of the man's family has been notified of his death.
We can tell you he has an extensive criminal history, including state and federal convictions. He was due in court this month to answer to burglary charges.
We will update you on his identity and past as soon as next of kin notification is done.
NEARBY DEPARTMENT OF LABOR BUILDING ALSO LOCKED DOWN
The incident triggered the lockdown of at least one other nearby building, the Department of Labor. The building is next to the high school, where the suspect was shot at and apprehended.
Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle said she was on her way back to the office after a meeting at the Statehouse.
"When I turned into Green Mountain Drive where the Department of Labor is, there were several sheriffs already on site, Vermont State Police and Montpelier Police and it appeared they were focused on someone who might be sitting on the bleachers at Montpelier High School," Kurrle said. "We have asked staff not to leave the building until further notice and the doors are locked to the public. We have security, obviously, that you can't enter the building completely unless you have a badge or you are let in. But there is an area of the building to the general public normally can get in but right now all of that is locked."
Kurrle was given the all clear around 11:10 a.m. That's when the lockdown was lifted at the Department of Labor.