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Authorities investigating whether bank robbery suspects are involved in other heists

WICHITA — Law enforcement officials are reviewing bank robberies around the Wichita area over the past several months to see whether they were committed by any of the three men arrested following Wednesday's robbery of Equity Bank.

One of the suspects, a man who turned 29 today, was shot and wounded by police as he attempted to flee officers in a courtyard at the Village Park at Woodgate apartment complex in the 5400 block of East 21st Street.

He is in serious but stable condition at Wesley Medical Center, Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said.

The other suspects, two 28-year-old men, were arrested inside apartments in Building 12 of the complex, Stolz said.

"We're going to take a hard look at all of our bank robberies in the last six months... and see if they tie together or not," he said.

The suspect wounded by police had been released from federal prison in September after serving time for a bank robbery conviction, Stolz said. The other two suspects have "extensive criminal backgrounds," he said.

The Equity Bank at 555 N. Webb Road was robbed at 10:39 a.m. by three suspects wearing masks and hoods, Stolz said. Two were armed — one of them with a machine pistol — and the third collected money.

They ran from the bank and got into a stolen Chevy Tahoe, which they drove a short distance northeast to the 9700 block of Von Thaden, where they dumped the Tahoe and took off in a stolen blue Ford Escape.

Officers responding to the reported bank robbery spotted the Escape going west on 21st Street near Rock Road, Stolz said. Once they determined it had been stolen, they attempted to pull over the vehicle.

A short chase ensued before the three suspects bailed from the car at the northwest corner of the apartment complex between Oliver and Woodlawn.

One of them ran north and east from the car, but was cut off by officers who were entering the opposite side of the complex. He ran from them, ignoring verbal commands to stop running and put his hands where officers could see them.

A veteran officer fired "multiple times" when he saw the suspect reach toward his waistband, Stolz said. The suspect was hit in the torso and lower body.

He did not have a weapon, officers learned. Both guns used in the bank robbery were recovered in the stolen Ford Escape.

When looking at why an officer opened fire on the suspect, Stolz said, "the totality of circumstances" must be taken into consideration.

Officers knew there had been several bank robberies in recent weeks involving armed suspects. They were responding to a confirmed bank robbery with weapons involved. They knew the suspects were fleeing a violent crime in a stolen vehicle.

"When you put all that together and when you see a person not listening to your commands, and you see furtive gestures that appear suspicious... it's more than just what happens at that particular minute," Stolz said.

Witnesses saw one of the other suspects run into Building 12, where he was apprehended a short time after he forced his way into an apartment.

At that point, Stolz said, the SWAT team was called in. A search of Buildings 12 and 13 was then conducted, and the third suspect was found in an apartment in Building 12.

Because the suspect was let into the apartment freely, officers took three people at the apartment downtown for questioning to see whether they were accomplices. But all three have been released, Stolz said, and police have no evidence linking them to the crime.

Police have recovered both weapons and both stolen vehicles used in the crime, he said, and they think they have recovered all of the stolen money.

"We try to plan for every scenario we can, but at the end of the day you never know what criminals are going to do," Stolz said.

The FBI is assisting in the bank robbery investigation, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into the officer-involved shooting.

Investigators plan to present evidence in the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office today or Friday, authorities said.

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