VALDESE — Police spent Thursday scouring Mineral Springs Mountain for signs of two suspects last seen before noon Thursday.
The manhunt stems from an early morning robbery at the Speedway convenience store off Interstate 40 Exit 105, said Maj. Ryan Lander with the Morganton Department of Public Safety. Three men, armed with guns, robbed the store just before 5 a.m., but no one was injured during the robbery.
Two of the suspects led police on a high-speed chase in a stolen pickup truck down I-40 eastbound all the way to Mineral Springs Mountain Avenue, where the truck wrecked, police said.
A third suspect was believed to have stolen a city of Morganton water department truck from Believers Way in Morganton, Lander said. That truck was later found in North Myrtle Beach and police determined that it was a separate and unrelated incident. Two suspects were apprehended in the theft of the truck.
All of the suspects were black males wearing dark clothing, Lander said. They are considered armed and dangerous.
Misty Watts, a regular customer at the store, told The News Herald that she was going to walk into the store at around 4:30 a.m. when she noticed the doors were jammed in a v-shape, pointing toward her.
“When I went to open it, it wouldn’t open so I jerked it,” Watts said. “When I jerked it, I looked up and I saw a person in a gray hoodie … he was forcing the clerk into the back room.”
Watts said she ran away from the store and she and another man called 911. As they were leaving, the man in the gray hoodie was peering out through the back room door.
It was a scary experience, Watts said. She said the clerk that was robbed was always nice to her.
“I couldn’t imagine being that clerk right now,” Watts said. “I was scared enough being on the outside, I couldn’t imagine being him being on the inside … I almost imagine that if I was just a few minutes quicker at being there, if I was just a few minutes sooner, then I might be in that back room too.”
No suspects have been taken into custody, and the search continues for the two suspects last seen on Mineral Springs Mountain Avenue.
Multiple law enforcement agencies have been called to assist with the search, including the N.C. State Highway Patrol helicopter. Sheriff Steve Whisenant said only one of the suspects has been seen since wrecking the stolen truck.
An officer sprained her knee during the a K-9 track on Mineral Springs Mountain, but has since been released from the hospital, Lander said.
Police are treading carefully as the suspects still are considered armed and dangerous. Whisenant reflected on the killing of U.S. Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp in 2014.
“In that particular situation, the suspect ambushed him,” Whisenant said. “When he, with his K-9, walked through some trees and some cover, the suspect was waiting for him and shot and killed him and his K-9 … we’ve got to think about that.”
Officers are trying to wait on the suspect to come out of the woods, Whisenant said.
“We’re going to try to continue to do what we’ve been doing, waiting for him to show his face then we’ll have officers saturating that area,” Whisenant said.
MDPS advised residents not to approach the suspects if spotted. Instead, call 911 immediately. Anyone who can identify the suspects should call MDPS at 828-437-1211, or Morganton-Burke Crimestoppers at 828-437-3333.