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Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 09:28 AM

Thugs rob LA store, take workers hostage, escape

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON
Associated Press

Police were searching for two armed robbers who escaped after storming into a Southern California department store, taking 14 employees hostage and attacking two of the captives.

One employee was stabbed and another was sexually assaulted before the three-hour ordeal ended early Friday at the Nordstorm Rack store at a shopping center near Los Angeles International Airport.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow said the gunmen committed a robbery before fleeing, but declined to describe what was stolen.

The hostage drama began about 11 p.m. Thursday, when a man reported his girlfriend had called to say gunmen were in the store, Los Angeles police Lt. Andy Neiman said.

"She told him: `Call 911. Two guys with guns just came into our store,'" Neiman said.

Police officers and SWAT team members swarmed the shopping center that also has restaurants and a movie theater. The officers saw a man leave the second-floor store, but he ran back in, Neiman said.

Moments later, another man came out with a woman, but when he saw the police he grabbed her and pushed her back inside, Neiman said.

SWAT members surrounded the store. They later rushed in. Officers found most of the hostages locked in a storage room and two others in a bathroom, police said.

Officers searched the store but didn't find the robbers. Police said there were multiple entrances and exits that could have provided an escape.

The employee who was stabbed was treated and released at the scene, police said.

Police were checking to see if surveillance cameras captured the robbers on video. Investigators also were interviewing the 13 women and a man who were held hostage to determine the chain of events.

Darrow said counseling services will be provided to employees.

"Our priority right now is to take care of our employees," she said.

The store will remain closed over the weekend to give employees time to recover. When the store that was robbed reopens Monday, there will be counselors and extra security on hand, Darrow said.

Five other local stores were also closed.


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