Two masked men terrorized an Eastport couple Friday, binding them with duct tape and plastic ties and ransacking their house, police said, in a home invasion with echoes of a notorious Connecticut case.
The assailants - one armed with a small black handgun - then ordered the 38-year-old husband to go get more cash or his wife, 37, would be harmed, according to police. The husband drove alone to a Chase bank in Center Moriches, withdrawing an unknown sum from his account, but his demeanor caused an employee to call 911, police said.
Police descended on the bank just as the man was leaving with his cash withdrawal, and the husband told the responding officers about the invasion, authorities said.
Believing there was a hostage situation, Seventh Precinct officers surrounded the house, cordoning off the block in the largely wooded area in a siege that lasted for hours. Heavily armed Emergency Services officers brought an armored vehicle to the scene.
Police said they found the wife bound but otherwise uninjured in the backseat of one of the couple's cars, which was parked in the driveway of the modest two-story home.
Authorities said the intruders told her to lie on the backseat and be quiet. She didn't know where the assailants went.
When police arrived, they thought the home invaders might still be in the house and summoned a hostage negotiator before approaching.
It was shortly after 11 a.m. that they discovered the female victim. Hours more passed before it was determined the assailants had left, police said.
Detectives say they believe the house was targeted, but that the victims did not know the perpetrators.
No arrests have been made. Authorities say the burglars took the woman's diamond ring, the man's necklace, two computers, cash and wallets.
Police said this is how the incident unfolded:
As the man opened his front door to go out about 9:05 a.m., the two masked men were waiting outside the door. They pushed their way in. The victim struggled with them briefly, but the home invaders overpowered him and bound the man and his wife, also blindfolding them with tape.
At first, the couple was held in their kitchen. Then one of the intruders took the wife to the couple's bedroom and left her on the bed. After the men scooped up valuables around the house, they demanded more money at gunpoint. The husband persuaded them to let him go to the bank to get more money.
"I think the implication was it was going to be a significant amount of money," said Det. Sgt. John Best.
The wife believes her husband had left when the robbers put her, still bound, in the car - a disabled white Volvo station wagon that was one of many on the property. The husband has a car-scrapping business, police said.
Police said it was unclear why the robbers fled without waiting for the promised cash from the bank. The wife said she was removed from the bedroom 30 to 45 minutes after she was put there.
As the situation unfolded, Eastport Elementary School, a half-mile away, was placed on a modified lockdown Friday afternoon, school officials said. Students were released at their usual dismissal time.
Police blocked access to Union Avenue well into the evening as they continued to collect evidence at the house.
A neighbor, Pete Jespersen, witnessed at least part of the day's events; he said he saw an officer approach the victims' house with a drawn gun. He said police told him to leave his backyard and get inside.
At the Triangle Pub, a popular restaurant and bar a few blocks from the crime scene, the break-in was the topic of the night.
"This stuff never happens around here," said Brendan Neary of Eastport. "Everybody knows everybody."
The case was reminiscent, in some aspects, to a Connecticut home invasion that led to the murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire in July 2007. During the ordeal, Jennifer Hawke-Petit withdrew money from her bank to appease intruders who ended up killing her and her two daughters. Her husband, who was savagely beaten and bound at the onset of the incident, survived the attack.
"It freaked me out," said bartender Joanne Ziminski. "When I heard about it I thought it was like that situation in Connecticut. This is scary. It doesn't happen here."
With Mark Harrington
and Stacey Altherr