Gun-toting robber hits downtown casino

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 10, 2003

Vicksburg Police Lt. Linda Hearn carries a box, suspected of holding a bomb, from Horizon Casino early Sunday.(Mark J. Armstrong The Vicksburg Post)

[11/10/03]Vicksburg’s newest and only downtown casino was robbed early Sunday morning, minutes after a blaze was set at a former school building and less than an hour after a bomb threat to another casino.

Police say a masked man held several Horizon Casino employees at gunpoint before leaving the Mulberry Street area around 4:17 with an undisclosed amount of cash.

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At the same time, Vicksburg firefighters were arriving at the former Jett Elementary School, where flames were reported to be shooting 50 feet into the air from the part of the school that remained after the main portions were removed years ago.

The robber entered the casino through an employee entrance near the second deck cash cage by holding a revolver to the head of a slot attendant who had stepped outside on a break. He told employees to cooperate because there were two bombs in the building, said John Gorman, branch director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission Enforcement Division in Vicksburg.

Fire Chief Keith Rogers said the fire at the Jett site was intentionally set, but police officials would not say if they believe the fire was set by the robber.

“We don’t have any indication that they are connected, but we are going to pursue all possibilities,” said police spokesman DaVon Gray.

The Jackson Bomb Squad and Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm Bureau agents were also summoned to Horizon casino after the robber claimed there was a bomb left in the building. A shoe box wrapped in duct tape was found hidden in the loading-dock area near where the armed man left the casino, but authorities said the box was empty.

Horizon opened a week before the robbery in the hotel and casino space Harrah’s built and operated for almost 10 years before announcing the sale months ago.

Casino employees and patrons were evacuated from the boat for nearly six hours while the property was searched.

Fire forced evacuations made at the La Quinta Inn, 4216 Washington St., near the Jett blaze.

No injuries were reported at either scene.

A phoned-in bomb threat was made around 3:15 to Rainbow Casino, 1380 Warrenton Road. Of Vicksburg’s four casinos, Horizon and Rainbow are the most distant from each other, and the Jett site is also along the river and owned by a gaming company, the parent of Isle of Capri Casino.

Police drew no conclusions about any linkage, nor did those involved.

“We don’t want to say anything that could hinder the investigation,” Horizon casino manager Gene Ford said.

The robber was described to police by the cash cage supervisor as a black man about 5-foot 9, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing gloves and a hooded Dallas Cowboys sport jacket. He fled the casino through a south entrance and left the parking lot in a dark blue or black Ford Escort.

Gray said investigators have interviewed 20 witnesses and were reviewing video surveillance tapes.

Fire investigators were also sorting through debris at the former Jett school, Rogers said.

Sunday’s holdup was the second in 10 years of gaming in Vicksburg and the 22nd in the state this year. The previous 21 this year were all in the Tunica area.

Warren County District Attorney Gil Martin said about seven years ago a man pulled a gun on a casino manager and demanded his money back after losing. In other cases, before lighting and security patrols were increased, some patrons have reported money taken or cars burglarized.