Memphis Police released new information Tuesday about the evidence recovered at the scene of a theft at Reed's Jewelers in Wolfchase Mall Saturday, where a group of thieves made off with 65 Rolex watches during a smash and grab incident.
Fear and panic spread across Wolfchase Mall Saturday night when a group of thieves dressed in black walked into Reeds Jewelers and started smashing display cases. Police say the group walked away with more than $715,000 in merchandise.
According to a police report obtained by FOX13 News, three employees inside the store at the time heard a loud bang and dropped to the floor. When an employee looked up, he saw several people dressed in all black smashing open jewelry cases with hammers and heard one say, "You didn't get any diamonds?" on a cellphone. Then the suspects ran off with several items towards Sears.
Another witness says as the suspects were running, the hood slipped off one of the men, giving him a glimpse of a suspect. According to that witness, the suspects split up, with two running toward the north exit door and three going to the south exit door.
Mall security reported seeing three men in black running out of the mall and getting into a gray minivan and two others running into a red sedan before fleeing the mall.
A cellphone dropped by one of the suspects and two hammers were recovered at the scene. Memphis Police were called back to the scene Sunday night after an employee found more evidence in the bushes. Police recovered a hammer with duct tape wrapped around the handle, a tan/white glove, and a tan t-shirt.
Police are reviewing surveillance footage and photos to find the suspects responsible. They are hoping one of those items recovered Sunday holds clues to who did this.
"Certainly it concerns us," Director Armstrong said Monday during a city council budget committee meeting. "The mall is a place for families to go in and shop. I think there is even a movie theater located in that mall. So, certainly it concerns us for it to have suspects that are that brazen to take an act like that in a crowded mall.
"So we're going to do absolutely any and everything we can to locate the people responsible and bring them to justice."
"We heard a loud noise," recalled Donald Bennett, who was inside the mall shopping with his wife at the time of the chaos. "I turned around and looked, and I saw them beating up the counter, breaking it. I went over close to the edge and saw them run out."
"They were hitting it with hammers and they were breaking the countertops and reaching in and grabbing watches," Frances Bennett said.
The Bennetts say the thieves took what they could and bolted out two exits on either side of Sears.
"They've got an exit on both sides of Sears," Donald Bennett said. "Three went one way and two went the other."
In cellphone video sent to FOX13 News three figures can be seen run across the Sears entrance on the second floor of the mall and out of the frame.
"One of them almost fell down because he changed directions," Donald Bennett said. "That's when he dropped the watch. I saw him drop the watch and he went out the door. I went out the door behind them and they left a hammer."
Donald said his immediate reaction was to go after them.
"I was mad. I was mad and I'm still mad," Donald said. "I wasn't really scared or anything. It made me mad knowing they were robbing someone, doing what they were doing."
After the thieves sped away, police scanned the scene, found hammers and a cellphone, interviewed witnesses, and called it a night. But they were called back to the area Sunday night after an employee sweeping a business across the street found something.
"I turned around the rear and I saw beside some bushes," said the man. "I seen a sledgehammer. "When I came across it, I automatically just got nervous, got a second feeling in me and I was like, this don't seem right. It just spooked me, that's all. It just spooked me."
Police found a sledgehammer wrapped in duct tape, a white and tan glove, and a tan t-shirt in the bushes outside the store Tandy Leather.
"When I saw it, it just made me nervous because that's the first thing that went in my mind, that they robbed the mall with that. So I just called my boss and he reported it to the police."
Now that police have several pieces to a puzzle, they hope it will lead them to those responsible.
"They seemed professional because when I was watching them do it, everybody knew what they were doing because one was beating the glass, the others were picking it up," Donald Bennett said. "When they stopped, they just stopped all of a sudden and left. They all just stopped and left, like it was rehearsed."
In a statement to FOX13 News if Wolfchase Galleria mall employees are trained to handle situations like this, mall general manager AJ Coffee said "training is ongoing.
"Training of mall and store employees is ongoing," Coffee said. "As recently as last August, the mall and several life safety agencies conducted an active shooter drill to ensure that the mall and law enforcement are prepared for such incidents."
Coffee said mall management continues to review and improve safety and security at Wolfchase Galleria and they want to assure customers that safety is their number one priority.
FOX!3 News reporter Matt Gerien contributed to this report.
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