Manhunt ends with motel raid, arrests

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 11, 2005

The flight of two men suspected of a Wednesday armed robbery ata Lawrence County convenience store ended Thursday when they wereapprehended during a raid at a McComb motel.

The robbery sparked an intense manhunt that stretched throughLawrence, Lincoln, Walthall and Pike counties.

Law enforcement officials would not name the suspects until theywere charged. Pike County officers transferred the men Thursdayafternoon to the Lawrence County Jail.

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“They will be charged later today and most likely will see thejudge this afternoon for their initial hearing to set bond,” Thamessaid.

Thames said the two men were McComb residents and were 34 and 29years old.

A woman arrested with the two men during the raid on theCamellian Motel off Highway 98 around 11:15 a.m. will not becharged, Thames said. She was released by Pike County authoritiesshortly after the arrests.

Pike County Sheriff’s Department Chief Investigator DavisHaygood said officers caught the men by surprise during theraid.

“We had to make a forced entry into the room. There was noresistance whatsoever,” he said.

Haygood said the men were sleeping and that “after being chasedmost of the night, they were pretty tired.”

The raid involved several agencies, Haygood said, includingofficers from his department, the McComb Police Department, andagents with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and SouthwestMississippi Interjurisdictional Narcotics Unit.

“We were kind of busy yesterday, so we just strung whateverunits we could together to make the raid,” Haygood said.

The men were unarmed at the time of the raid, Haygood said.

Thames said officers were still looking for the stolen money anda .380 semiautomatic one of the suspects had purchased at a pawnshop in McComb the day of the robbery.

“We’re going to see if we can recover that and the moneysometime today” after we interview the suspects, Thames said. Thesuspects apparently stashed the items during the chase, hesaid.

The men sparked an intensive manhunt after robbing Valley QuickStop around noon Wednesday and crashing their car on Bismarck Roadin Lawrence County while fleeing from the store owners, who werepursuing the suspects at high speed. The men fled into thewoods.

Thames led a multi-agency task force that threw up a quickperimeter around the area and used bloodhounds and a helicopterwith thermal-imaging to continue the search when darkness closed inthat evening.

The men were next sighted early Thursday morning by a storeowner in Ruth.

Pam Raiford, owner of the Country Super Store at Ruth, said shehad heard of the robbery and became suspicious of the men. She wasnot aware of the ongoing search.

“It was evident something wasn’t right with them,” she said.”Their clothing was torn and tattered, and it looked like they hadbeen running through the woods all night. I later learned that was,in fact, what they had done.”

After calling 911, Raiford said she tried to stall the men untilLincoln County deputies could arrive. However, they caught a ridewith some of her customers before she could warn them.

“The deputies arrived not five minutes later,” she said.

The next sighting was at Kenneth Hamm’s shop, where theyallegedly stole a pickup truck belonging to the father of one ofthe suspects, Thames said.

They drove the pickup to the Camellian Motel, where they met upwith a female friend of theirs, Thames said. The friend followedthem back to Hamm’s shop to return the truck.

“They parked the truck just exactly like it was when they tookit,” Thames said, apparently hoping no one had noticed itmissing.

Thames said the friend took them back to the motel.

“As far as we know, she wasn’t aware of anything until they gotback to the motel. She is cooperating with us,” Thames said.

Thames said officers were able to track the suspects to themotel by a cellular phone found in the wreckage of the car used inthe robbery.

“We were able to use that cell phone to contact relatives of oneof the individuals and were able to find out from them where theywere hiding,” Thames said.

At one point during the search for the suspects, students atNorth Pike Middle School were kept in their classrooms during anormally scheduled class change after a faculty member thought shesaw one of the suspects go into the woods near the school.

“They kept all the students in class until we could get a deputythere and check it,” Haygood said. “It turned out to be nothing.They were actually already at the motel at the time.”