SWAT safely removes Office Depot workers
BY JOE PAGAN AND J.D. GALLOP • FLORIDA TODAY • July 22, 2008
WEST MELBOURNE -- More than a dozen armed SWAT team members shattered the front door and entered the Office Depot store at 1131 West New Haven Ave. in West Melbourne, where it's believed two men have been holding employees at bay since about 6:30 a.m.
A helicopter hovered overhead and an armored vehicle approached the store just before 9 a.m. as SWAT team members ran into the store.
As of 9:156 a.m., all of the employees have been cleared from the store, but officers are not aware if any body remains inside. Employees emerged from the back of the store with their hands in the air. One person who appeared to be a store employee was put into an ambulance. He did not appear to be seriously injured.
In the parking lot, officers with dogs went from car to car. No one has been found inside the store. The bulk of the SWAT team remains inside the store. Officers remain in the parking lot with their weapons drawn, and dogs were used to search vehicles in the lot.
According to Cmdr. Steve Wilkinson of West Melbourne Police Department, at 6:35 a.m. Office Depot employees were ambushed by at least two robbers, one with a handgun, one with a knife. One employee was cut, but it was not a serious injury. Just before 9 a.m., the SWAT team was able to enter the store, move safely through the store and made their way to the manager's office, where they found the employees and led them out the back door with their hands up. They've all been safely removed from the store.
Just after 9 a.m., several members of the Melbourne Police Department SWAT team moved through the parking lot with their guns drawn, along with a canine officer. There are still three civilian cars in the parking lot. U.S. 192 at Dairy Road remains closed. The sheriff's helicopter remains in the air.
Earlier this morning , a negotiator was on the scene and a SWAT team were being dispatched to the area. West Melbourne Police was assisted by Melbourne Police and Brevard County sheriff's deputies.
Brevard County Fire-Rescue was called to the scene, where a man was reportedly suffering a head injury from an assault inside the store. The store opened at 7 a.m.
Deputies and officers cordoned off entrances to the Office Depot Centre, where the Wild Oats grocery store used to be.
Officers armed with M-16s were stationed behind palm trees and their cars.
One officer with a police dog on a leash was posted several feet from the entrance.
"It was all quarantined off when I got here," said Steve Seidl, a manager at the store. "I usually get here an hour after everybody else. It's luck, I guess."
Seidl was visibly worried, but was unaware of what was going on. "I know about as much as you do. There's three of them in there," he said of the number of co-workers in the store. "You're scared for them," he said.
Wilkinson said at least one employee was tied up. Also, officers were communicating by cell phone with employees in the store, but it still was unclear whether the suspects remain in the store, he said.
"I just feel really bad for those people inside," said Dean Sharinos, who works for Parker Health Care, a business directly across the street from Office Depot. "This is West Melbourne -- nothing is supposed to happen here."
Officers closed off U.S. 192 eastbound and detoured traffic at Shannon Road across from H&R Block. Westbound traffic remained open.
Just before 8 a.m., the parking lot was cluttered with sheriff's patrol cars, rolling into the area. Some deputies were dressed in camouflage. BCSO SWAT team members are setting up at the scene, pointing their assault weapons toward the eastern side of the building.
SWAT team members went around the building on the western side. One of the SWAT members was carrying a sledge hammer. A sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead.
A Melbourne officer yelled at a couple walking in the direction of the Office Depot Center:
"Go back now, the road is closed."
SWAT team alerted officers that Office Depot employees were wearing their blue shirts uniforms to distinguish them from the suspects.
In the Office Depot Centre, there were three civilian vehicles in the parking lot. At the front door no one was visible, but immediately to the right of the front door one officer was stationed with a canine and two other uniformed officers.
SWAT brought in an armored vehicle.
"SWAT is working their tactics to get in there to determine if the perpetrators are inside, " Wilkinson said.