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Orton's Tesoro at 504 Rhinehart Drive in East Grand Forks is the fifth armed robbery in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks since December 9th. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Robbery No. 5: Bandit holds up EGF convenience store

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A masked man robbed an East Grand Forks convenience store and fled with cash just before 1 p.m. Friday, sending lawmen scrambling to respond to the fifth holdup of an area business in 10 days.

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The robber, who wore a black or brown ski mask, "made a command for cash. He did display a weapon believed to be a black handgun with a silver stripe of some type going down the barrel," said East Grand Forks police Chief Mike Hedlund.

Officers arrived at Orton's Point Tesoro, 504 Rhinehart Drive, and after learning the suspect had fled west behind the store, they put a Grand Forks police dog on the case.

Hedlund said the K-9 followed tracks to where police believe the robber entered a vehicle, which witnesses described as an older, white mid-size or compact car with a loud muffler.

A witness reported seeing the car driving through the area several times before the holdup, and a passer-by saw the robber enter the store, the chief said. After getting away with an undisclosed amount of cash, the robber is thought to have entered the car on Seventh Avenue Southeast, the street behind the store, the chief said.

"The person in my opinion is very daring and perhaps kind of foolhardy," Hedlund said.

"While I'm not going to advise this, I would have to think that the odds of a business having an employee there that's armed is going to be increasing."

The suspect was described as a white man standing about 5-feet, 10 inches, weighing 165 to 180 pounds. He wore a tan or burnt-orange down jacket and shiny, black nylon sweatpants or running pants.

"If anybody saw anyone in the vicinity of Orton's that even close to matches that description at about that time, we'd appreciate hearing from them," Hedlund said.

Security video

A security video shows a clerk, apparently the only person in the store, tending to business behind the counter a little before 1 p.m.

The robber comes into the frame at 12:57:14, walking from the north to enter the store's east-facing door. The video puts him inside the store at 12:57:20. He approaches the counter, uses his right hand to pull a gun from his right side and points the muzzle of the gun at the counter.

After the clerk comes to the counter at 12:57:27, the robber steps back a bit and puts his gun away. The clerk taps the touch-screen on the register, opens the till, pulls out a black tray and places it on the counter.

As she does that, the robber looks twice over his shoulder toward the window and glass door of the storefront. He grabs the money and leaves. He's last seen on the video at 12:58:05, and at 12:58:09, the door is closing behind him. All told, he was in and out in less than a minute.

Other heists

Hedlund said it's possible this robbery is related to the others, considering the similarities in the suspect's description and methods.

In Grand Forks, the Fairfield Inn was hit Dec. 9; Discontent, Dec. 11; Simonson Station Store on Gateway Drive, Dec. 12; and Big Cigs Valley Dairy, Wednesday.

In each robbery, including Friday's, the suspect had his face covered, displayed a handgun, injured no one and fled with cash.

Except for Big Cigs Valley Dairy where two clerks were on duty, only one clerk has been present when the robberies have occurred. Police believe the gun used at Orton's was a semiautomatic, a detail that jibes with the Grand Forks robberies.

Police reports show that Big Cigs Valley Dairy, Discontent and Simonson Station Store lost a combined $2,942 in cash; the report from the Fairfield Inn heist does not give the amount taken.

Based on security video images and statements from store clerks, Grand Forks investigators released Thursday a collective description of the suspect: a young adult of an unknown race who is 5-feet, 7 inches to 6 feet tall with a slim to medium build and has brown eyes with prominent eyebrows that are black or very dark brown.

Grand Forks police said Thursday that catching the robber was their top priority, but that so far, no leads have panned out.

The Greater Grand Forks Area Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the robber's arrest and conviction. Callers can remain anonymous and still receive the reward, according to Crime Stoppers.

Hedlund said the longer the robberies continue, the more likely it is the culprit will be caught, possibly through an officer's use of force "which would make the situation far more serious than it already is."

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