By Calvin Palmer
Robbers kidnapped a bank teller early today, strapped a suspected bomb to his chest and used him to steal money from the Coral Gables branch of Bank of America, south Florida.
A three-hour stand-off ended peacefully when the suspected bomb was removed and the shirtless teller, Diego Uscamayta, was brought out of the bank shortly before noon.
The FBI would not say whether it was a viable explosive but said it contained “bomb-making materials” that were being examined for evidence.
Coral Gables police Chief Richard Naue said three men broke into the teller’s home in the suburb of Kendall, holding him and his father hostage for several hours. Two of the men allegedly drove the teller to the bank, while the third held the man’s father hostage. All three made a clean getaway.
The robbers never entered the bank. Naue said they sent the booby-trapped teller inside to retrieve an undisclosed amount of cash. The female branch manager, who was the only other employee there before the bank opened, opened the safe and Uscamayta provided a large amount of cash to the robbers. They made off in his Ford Mustang.
Emergency dispatch received calls of a robbery in progress at the bank just after 8:00 a.m., setting off a massive police response that surrounded the bank, located near the University of Miami.
Naue said neither Uscamayta nor his father was injured.
Authorities are still questioning Uscamayta, whom they regard as a victim but have yet to rule him out of being involved in the heist.
“I can’t say either way at this point where this person stands,” said Dena Choucair, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Miami, who called the incident “unusual”.
Hugo Nuñez del Prado, a close friend of Uscamayta’s, said the teller was likely targeted because he had recently been promoted and had a set of keys to the bank, though authorities refused to say whether he knew his abductors.
Del Prado said he does not believe his friend was involved in the robbery in any way.
“I was praying to God that he would be OK,” he said. “He is the victim.”
U.S. 1, was closed for hours in both directions at the height of rush hour. Three local schools were on lockdown as a precaution and the University of Miami sent out a campus-wide alert warning students and staff to avoid the area, although classes continued as usual.
Police are still searching for the red 1998 Ford Mustang, license tag R958DY.