PHILADELPHIA -- Two armored car guards were shot and killed by a robber as they removed deposits from a bank ATM in a brazen daylight heist Thursday, setting off a sweeping search for the killer that shut down a nearby mall and several schools.
After hours of searching, authorities had few leads and only a sketchy description of the gunman, who police said approached the guards and fired without saying a word.
"He just came out initially and just assassinated them, that fast," Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said.
The robber approached the car from behind shortly after 8 a.m., shot one guard in the chest, then went around the vehicle and shot the second guard as he tried to unholster his gun, police said.
Johnson said neither the victims nor a third guard who was injured fired a shot.
"There was no physical contact at all. There was just firing, it was an assassination," Johnson said.
The gunman fired at the cab of the Loomis armored car before fleeing in a black Acura TL sedan, police said.
Johnson said surveillance tape from the Wachovia bank's security camera and another northeast Philadelphia business showed the robber getting out of his car and putting on gloves before killing William Widmaier, 65, and Joseph Alullo, 54.
Widmaier, a Philadelphia police officer from 1966 to 1989, and Alullo, who served on the police force from 1973 to 2000, were assigned to the same district, where they became friends, Johnson said.
Widmaier was shot once in the chest, and Alullo was shot three times in the chest and abdomen, police said.
The third guard was grazed by shattered glass as the robber tried to shoot through the armored car, Loomis spokesman Mark Clark said. That guard was treated at a hospital for lacerations and released, a spokeswoman said. Authorities said he was 69 but did not release his name.
All three Loomis guards were armed, Clark said. The injured guard radioed for help after his co-workers were shot, the company said.
Widmaier was married with adult children and Alullo was married with three daughters, Loomis said in a news release. The men worked out of the company's branch in Pennsauken, N.J.
"These were experienced, dependable guys who have dedicated a great part of their lives to serving their community," said Cal Murri, president of Loomis U.S. "It is a terrible loss for us all."
A short time after the shootings, police recovered an empty duffel bag behind the Turf Club, an off-track betting parlor directly behind the bank, Johnson said. Police believe that the bag came from the armored car. Johnson said he did not know how much money the shooter got away with.
The mall where the bank is located was temporarily shut down, and police were stopping motorists leaving the area as they searched for the gunman. Several schools in the area were locked down.
Police initially said they were looking for four suspects, but Johnson said it appeared there was only one robber. Police had no explanation for the discrepancy.
Johnson said police and FBI investigators were reviewing surveillance video from the bank, which is at a busy intersection of shops and other businesses.
Police showed cropped still frames from the bank surveillance tape that show a man wearing a yellow baseball cap pointing a handgun toward the front of the ATM. FBI spokeswoman Jerri Williams said the full view of the scene was being withheld out of respect for the victims' families.
Johnson blamed the loss of life on the availability of handguns in Philadelphia and around the country.
Speaking of an international police chief's conference he recently attended, he said: "Every other country has the same problems we have. The one problem they didn't have is our gun problem ... A robbery with a knife or a baseball bat, somebody might have been injured. A robbery with a gun, somebody's killed."