By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE —Police arrested three armed masked men who barricaded themselves inside the South Union Market at 280 S. Union St. last night after they robbed the convenience store.
“The store’s owner and his wife hit the alarm as he and his wife ran out,” Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said of the robbery, which occurred about 10:11 p.m.
“We believed it was a hostage situation because an employee was still inside the store with three men who were armed,” the chief said.
The three robbery suspects eventually surrendered shortly before 11 p.m. after Lawrence police, joined by state police as well as Essex County sheriff’s deputies and two Essex County K-9 units, converged at the scene.
“They pulled the switch on the lights so it was in total darkness. They came out one at a time, backing out slowly with hands on their heads,” Romero said.
“The woman employee was found uninjured in the freezer of the store,” the chief said.
“They had her in the store with a gun pointed at her face. They manhandled and grabbed her. Guns were pointed at the owner and his wife too,” the chief said.
Lawrence police called in a SWAT team, but that request was canceled as soon as the suspects surrendered.
The robbery suspects found themselves trapped inside the store.
“They tried to shoot out the back door, but it was padlocked,” Romero said.
“We are still looking for another suspect in a getaway car,” the chief said.
Auxiliary Police Chief Jay Jackson and his volunteers were called in to block off the areas of Andover and South Union streets and Boxford and South Union streets for crowd control as a hostage situation loomed.
But the stand-off with police lasted less than an hour and nobody was injured, according to police.
“The holdup alarm got us there quick, and we were able to surround the place,” the chief said.
“Nobody was injured. Three are under arrest. We’re happy with the way it turned out,” Romero said. “It could have been a serious hostage situation. It could have been a lot worse. These individuals surrendered, and it was smart on their part because we had the place surrounded.”
Lawrence police received backup coverage from Andover, Methuen and North Andover police, who were prepared to handle other routine calls as the convenience store standoff drew the entire Lawrence Police shift.