MIAMI -- A bank teller who was abducted from his home Friday and strapped to what may be a bomb as part of a Coral Gables bank heist and hostage situation cut himself free from the possibly explosive device and has been taken into police custody.
The device, however, remained inside the Bank of America at 1540 S. Dixie Hwy.
``We're asking people to stay away from this area until we have this device detonated and in control,'' said Sgt. Janette Frevola, a Coral Gables police spokeswoman
Judy Orihuela, an FBI spokeswoman, said at noon that everyone had been removed from the bank.
The men who abducted the teller fled the bank in a red Ford Mustang after taking an unknown amount of cash, she said.
According to Orihuela, the bank robbery actually started as a home invasion about 1 a.m. at the Nob Hill apartments in the 9800 block of Kendall Drive.
Three men broke into the teller's apartment, strapped what may be a bomb to the man, and then about 8 a.m. drove him to the Bank of America, which had yet to open.
About that same time, Miami-Dade police received calls of a robbery in progress at the bank. A massive police presence arrived, including the county's bomb squad, the FBI, Coral Gables police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities surrounded the bank, located near the University of Miami.
After nearly four hours of standoff, the shirtless teller was escorted from the bank.
Police did not immediately clear the man of involvement in the heist and hostage situation.
``We don't know the role of this individual,'' Frevola said. ``He's being questioned.''
Orihuela said police are assessing the device and could not say whether it is indeed an active bomb.
Federal agents familiar with the case say the device will be disarmed by a blast of water that defuses explosive devices and prevents any burning that might occur.
Hugo Nuñez del Prado, a friend of the teller, told WSVN-Fox 7 that the teller is Diego Uscamayta, who often opens the bank in the mornings.
Del Prado said that, according to Uscamayta's mother, he was held hostage for seven hours before police arrived at the bank.
``He is only a victim of this,'' Del Prado told the station.
Traffic on U.S. 1 slowed to a crawl in both directions at Red Road, local schools were placed on lockdown and employees of the bank and nearby businesses huddled in confusion and fear at a nearby Publix.
Frevola said police continue to close the road at U.S. 1 and Alhambra Circle.
Authorities and a Bank of America spokeswoman confirmed that at one point several employees were held hostage inside the bank.
Anita Jenkins, a travel agent with The Travel Source, which is located in the same building as the bank, said outside a nearby Publix that about eight bank employees were holed up in the grocery store's upstairs employee lounge.
``They're all concerned,'' she said. ``We had a little prayer upstairs. Someone from the bank did a prayer.''
Members of the Miami-Dade bomb squad and hostage negotiators are at the scene, as well as Coral Gables police and the FBI.
George Giapetro, 42, said he arrived for work at a Whip 'n Dip near the bank about 9 a.m. and saw a man in a bomb suit approach the bank and send in a robot.
Police closed U.S. 1 in both directions at Red Road and are asking drivers to stay away from the area.
The University of Miami police issued an alert to students on campus about 8:45 a.m. asking them to avoid the area. About 9 a.m., students were notified that the UM Stanford shuttle was delayed.
Riviera Day School, 6800 Nervia St., a private school in Coral Gables, and Sunset Elementary School, 5120 SW 72nd St. in South Miami, are on lock down.
``We can see the bank from the school,'' said Riviera Day principal Al Glicksberg. ``Students were arriving when the situation started. We locked down everybody in the classrooms. Locked the doors and shut the lights. We would rather be safe than sorry.''