VINEYARD HAVEN — Doug Cabral pulled into the Rockland Trust drive-though at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, hoping to be first in line when the branch opened.
But 8:30 came and went, and the curtains on the Cape-style building stayed closed.
“I looked at the clock and thought, ‘They’re getting underway late today,’“ Cabral recalled Friday.
Moments later, Cabral learned why. A police officer told him to stay in his car while forensic teams searched for evidence in an audacious heist — three armed suspects had ambushed the bank employees, tied them up, and made off with thousands of dollars in cash, triggering a search across Martha’s Vineyard and onto Cape Cod.
On Friday, the suspects were still at large and residents remained mystified by the robbery, which seemed at once well-planned and, given the limited getaway options of an island, remarkably ill-conceived.
“To have decided that Martha’s Vineyard was a great place to rob a bank is kind of, well, ditzy,” said Cabral, who has lived on the island for 40 years. “Why would anyone do that?”
The three suspects wore identical Halloween-like masks and were dressed in dark, shapeless clothing, authorities said, urging residents to be vigilant.
“This continues to remain a very active investigation and the search for the suspects continues,’’ Boston FBI spokeswoman Kristen Setera said by e-mail. “We urge the public to remain vigilant and to report any and all suspicious activity and individuals to law enforcement.”
Authorities declined to provide details about the heist or updates on the search.
“We’re just going to let the police continue to do the basic work they have to do. They’re working a number of leads,” said Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe. “People should be vigilant but I don’t thing there’s anything people should be fearful of. This was a very targeted event.”
Police stopped a car on Beach Road in Tisbury on Friday evening while following a lead in the case, Tisbury police Sergeant Andrew Silvia said. The incident was first reported by the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
State Police took the car away on a flatbed truck, and investigators will interview an individual, Silvia said. He referred further questions to the district attorney’s office and State Police, where officials did not immediately respond to inquiries.
In a statement, Rockland Trust said the branch is “temporarily closed” and that none of its staff were harmed during the robbery. “There were no injuries and everyone is safe,” the bank said.
“Our relationship with our customers, employees, and communities is our top priority and their safety is critically important to us,” the bank said. “We will continue to apply stringent security measures to safeguard their well-being.”
On Thursday, law enforcement checked Steamship Authority ferries for the suspects, and heavily armed police descended on a Falmouth hotel, sending three town schools into lockdown.
On Friday morning, State Police spokesman David Procopio said no searches were taking place on the island, but detectives and troopers from the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section were participating in the investigation.
The suspects drove away in a bank employee’s car and later abandoned it in a parking lot in a state forest in Edgartown, officials and eyewitnesses said.
Maureen Hill, office manager at the island’s Land Bank, said the SUV was left at a popular location in the forest. She said the 5,300-acre forest doesn’t put up cameras but many deer hunters have installed them this time of year to track the animals.
Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, a longtime detective in Lowell, said bank robbers fall into two broad categories: those who are desperate to buy drugs or those who envision themselves as a “gangster” who robs banks for a living.
By choosing to rob a bank on an island, the thieves showed themselves to be “dumb,” said Davis, stressing he does not have access to investigative information. The fact that the suspects wore masks and dark, hooded clothing does not change that, he said.
The masks “certainly indicate a level of planning that’s out of the ordinary. But when you commit a crime, your main goal is to reduce your chances of being captured or identified. And there are a thousand banks in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Rhode Island and Connecticut you could hit that don’t have the added complication of a limited getaway,” he said. “So you have to say they’re dumb because they didn’t think through that complicating factor.”
By using guns during the robbery, the suspects made themselves a more urgent priority for law enforcement, he added. ”When they are carrying guns it ratchets up the intensity, the potential for violence,” he said. “They’ll want to get these guys off the streets.”
Davis said he thinks it’s “likely” the thieves live on the island, but they won’t be able to rely on a code of silence among their neighbors.
“Maybe they thought that by using masks, they could stay there and hunker down and no one would know who they were,” Davis said. “But that’s a small community and people talk.”
Ferries between Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod operated without interruption Thursday, although police on the island and the mainland were on alert for the possibility the thieves were trying to board or disembark.
It is unlikely the thieves escaped by plane, said Geoffrey Freeman, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Cape Air is the only commercial airline serving the island and passengers are required to identify themselves to TSA screeners, he noted. Detailed background checks are also required to travel by private plane, he said.
Freeman said there was an increased State Police presence at the airport for most of Thursday. On Friday, the airport stepped up perimeter patrols but the State Police had left.
On an island where violent crime is all but unheard of, the heist has left many on edge. Nettie Kent, the mother of a kindergartner, was about to start a Zoom meeting when she received a message from school officials, saying there had been an incident in Tisbury and schools were going into lockdown.
”I fell out of my chair, basically,” Kent said. “My very first thought was there’s a school shooting ... I still feel it in my nervous system.”
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