ARCOLA – An armed robbery at a liquor store on Fort Wayne's west side Wednesday preceded a standoff in tiny Arcola and the discovery of a body inside an apartment.
Police weren't identifying the man, found dead hours after the robbery, as that of the suspect.
But for hours Fort Wayne police and, later, Allen County Sheriff's Department SWAT team members, surrounded a two-story brick building where a vehicle matching the description of the one driven by the robbery suspect was parked outside.
The building houses a post office, some apartments and Tippmann Heating and Air.
About 5:15 p.m., about a half hour after the Allen County Sheriff's Department's brown armored truck pulled up to the front of the building and after a negotiator pleaded over a loudspeaker and police blasted the building with noise, tactical officers entered the building and found the body inside an apartment.
Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, Allen County sheriff's spokesman, would not say whether the man found inside was wanted in the robbery.
The afternoon began at 1:10 p.m., when a man wearing a medium-length black coat and a "Grim Reaper" mask ran into an S&V Liquor Store at 9906 Illinois Road and brandished a semi-automatic handgun. He ordered the clerk to open the cash register and, when the clerk complied, reached in and grabbed an undisclosed amount of cash, Fort Wayne police said.
Before the man left the store, he grabbed a bottle of liquor and fled in a red truck, according to police.
A red truck sat parked along the west side of the Arcola apartment building as police officers made sure residents and gawkers weren't in the line of fire should any shooting start.
Arcola Elementary was locked down, even as buses pulled into the parking lot to ferry children away for the day. At one point a woman trying to walk a child down the street was confronted by armed men and police tape and had to figure out a way past the apartment building.
Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Chris Himsel said all bus routes were re-routed to avoid the area. Walkers were either picked up by their parents or guardians or taken home by law enforcement and turned directly over to their parents or guardians, he said.
Police tape ran from the side of the local tavern across Arcola Road to the houses. As regulars wandered in as the afternoon extended into evening, they lifted the tape up and continued on into the bar.
A little after 4 p.m., brown-and-tan Allen County police cars began replacing Fort Wayne's white-and-blue marked cruisers as Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries and his officers took over the scene. SWAT officers donned protective gear and carried automatic weapons through the parking lot of the United Methodist church a block to the east of the building.
Nearby residents worried about how they were going to get to work.
Others, though, took in the fraught scene as the standoff continued, braving temperatures in that hovered in the low-teens with a stiff wind.
Throughout the afternoon, Jacob Cowan took photos with his digital camera. As news crews unpacked their cameras and stood shivering on the concrete outside his home a few blocks away, he came out with coffee and mugs.
He had been walking to the post office to pick up his mail when all the police cars showed up, he said.
So Cowan began taking pictures.
He said he found the event rather concerning, given the normal peace and quiet of the small rural community.
"My prayers and thoughts go out to the families," he said.