Local Bank Robbery Suspect Caught

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Staff Reports

Chino – The “AK-47” bank robber who shot and wounded a local police officer back in 2012 was caught this week in another state. He is also accused of a string of bank robberies throughout the country. He was dubbed the “AK-47 Bandit” by FBI agents because in each robbery, the suspect brandishes an AK-47 –style assault rifle with a drum magazine. 

Richrd Gathercole, 39, was arrested in Helena, Montana for shooting at a Kansas State Trooper. While in jail, Gathercole himself tipped police off during a recorded phone conversation. According to a transcript, he apparently called his mother, whom he lived with, and instructed her to “get all the guns out of the house”. His mother, who was unnamed, agreed and then said “um, this is recorded. You know that.” Apparently he did not.

On Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, the California Bank & Trust on 5455 Riverside Drive in Chino, California, was robbed by a white male, described as 25-40 years old, with a stocky build.  The suspect was armed with an assault rifle, similar to an AK-47, with a sling and drum magazine.  Following the robbery, a police officer patrolling the area came upon the bank robbery suspect who was fleeing the bank.  The suspect fired upon the officer and seriously wounded him.  During and following the robbery, the suspect wore body armor over a dark-colored collared short-sleeved shirt and blue pants, as well as a ski mask covering his face. 

The suspect was seen leaving the scene in a vehicle described as a dark gray Nissan Maxima with four doors and tinted windows.  A witness described seeing Arizona license plates on the vehicle. The suspect was seen in bank surveillance video and photographs dressed in tactical gear over a dark-colored, short-sleeve collared shirt and blue pants. He also wore a black full-face ski mask, a blue ballistic vest and/or a green mesh vest marked “Sheriff.”  

“I was on my way to the post office and parked across from the Chino Valley Medical Center Emergency entrance as I usually do,” said Michael Armijo, a passerby. “Then comes a police car screeching down the street as though he didn’t have control of the vehicle.” He drove erratically because the officer had a bullet in his leg, the police department confirmed.

“The officer flipped the door open and yelled ‘I’ve been shot’ and I ran up to the car with another passerby. I instructed him to get help at the ER and I tried to help him get out of the car,” Armijo said. “He then proceeded to give me details about the incident and the suspect to tell the detectives when they got there, so I did.” Armijo also said the officer told him he just happened to pull up when the robber was walking out. It was just timing, the officer had no warning there was a robbery going on. The robber saw the policeman and just began to open fire on the police car, striking the car in the fender, the door and the rear panel. The officer was hit through the door and the bullet entered and exited his leg, while the gas tank was punctured but did not ignite, Armijo said.

FBI officials have been looking for years for the suspect in Vacaville, Rexburg and others in California, Washington state and Nebraska dating back to 2012.

FBI agents, along with officers from Chino; Rexburg, Idaho; and Montana’s Musselshell County searched Gathercole’s home in the town of Roundup, about 50 miles north of Billings, on Saturday, according to officials with the Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office. Inside, they found “numerous” improvised explosive devices that were removed by a bomb squad, the officials said in a statement. His arrest was for the attempted shooting of the trooper who was trying to pull him over on interstate 70, and the trooper wasn’t injured.

Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact the Chino Police Department at 909 628-1234, their nearest FBI office or dial 911. For more information you can sign onto http://www.chinopd.org/.  The FBI’s wanted flyer announcing the reward can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/unknown/unknown-suspect-17/view.  Information can be provided confidentially.