By Mike LaBella
---- — They are now calling him the “Merrimack Valley Bandit.”
The FBI and local police departments are asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect in seven armed bank robberies in the area since Jan. 30, including one at the TD Bank in Groveland on Tuesday.
The robbery was the latest in a series of bank heists in area communities. Methuen and Lawrence police detectives formed a task force with the FBI last week as they work to solve the six previous bank robberies in the area since Jan. 30 — all but one of them involving a TD Bank branch. All but one of the robberies involved a handgun.
In each of the robberies, the suspect was similarly dressed in a hooded sweatshirt with his face partially concealed. The suspect is believed to be an 18- to 24-year-old male, between 5-feet, 6-inches to 5-feet, 8-inches tall, with a stocky build and thin eyebrows.
Law enforcement is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to his arrest.
In a press release issued yesterday, the FBI in Boston notes that in each of the robberies the suspect used a small handgun and pointed it at the tellers. In some of the heists, he threatened to harm the tellers should they disobey his commands. To facilitate his getaway, the robber may have had an accomplice waiting nearby in a white or light-colored car.
Yesterday, police said they were making progress in the investigation and following leads in Tuesday’s robbery.
On that afternoon, Groveland police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz and two officers responded to the report of a bank robbery in progress at the TD Bank branch at 280 Main St. The suspect walked into the bank lobby wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, a dark ski mask and faded blue jeans and possibly Timberland work boots. He approached the teller’s counter, held up a black firearm and demanded money.
The teller gave him an undetermined amount of cash and the man fled on foot, Kirmelewicz said. The suspect had his own bag.
“The suspect in the pictures seems to fit the same description of a suspect in other local bank robberies, so there’s a possibility that it may be the same person,” Kirmelewicz said.
Responding to a question about a rumor that students at Pentucket Regional High School might have identified the suspect, Kirmelewicz said there was nothing of substance to it.
“We were given some information about a possible connection, but we’re not feeling very strong about that,” he said. “At this time, we do not plan on questioning anyone at the school.”
To review photos of the suspect, visit https://bankrobbers.fbi.gov.
A white logo on a jacket worn in one of the robberies may be recognizable by someone familiar with the suspect, according to the FBI. Although the specific design is not distinguishable in the surveillance photos, it may provide useful information about the identity of the suspect.
Additionally, through a partnership with Clear Channel, digital billboards in the Merrimack Valley will be used to seek tips from the public, according to the FBI.
Anyone with information regarding the robberies should call the FBI at 617-742-5533, Lawrence Police at 978-794-5900, Methuen Police at 978-983-8698, Dracut Police at 978-957-2123 or Groveland Police at 978-521-1212.
Here is a list of the robberies believed to be committed by the Merrimack Valley Bandit:
Feb. 21 at approximately 6:30 p.m., TD Bank, 547 Broadway, Methuen.
March 1 at approximately 7:45 p.m., TD Bank, 91 Pleasant Valley St., Methuen.
March 12 at approximately 10:30 a.m., NESC Credit Union, 248 Pleasant St. Methuen.
March 28 at approximately 5:24 p.m., TD Bank, 350 South Broadway, Lawrence.
April 3 at approximately 4:15 p.m., TD Bank, 350 South Broadway, Lawrence.
April 8 at approximately 5:29 p.m., TD Bank, 1255 Bridge St., Dracut.
April 9 at approximately 2:12 p.m., TD Bank, 280 Main St, Groveland.