For Lisa Brinkley and a dozen co-workers at a Towson credit union, the terror began at 3 p.m. yesterday when a man waving a pistol burst into their office.
"I thought we were all going to die when he said he was the shotgun bandit," the 22-year-old Chase resident said later. "He said we should know him from the news."
It was all over by 4:30 p.m.
The gunman, one of five who held up the State Employees Credit Union, released the last of his hostages and surrendered to police.
Police declined to speculate on whether the man and four accomplices who fled after officers interrupted the robbery were part of the shotgun gang, or gangs, that have staged a string of more than two dozen armed holdups in the metropolitan area in recent weeks.
No shots were fired and no one was hurt in the credit union holdup, which brought out a massive display of firepower that included black-uniformed SWAT teams, FBI agents, state troopers and scores of Baltimore County officers, who sealed off the area around the 8500 block of LaSalle Road.
The robbery began just before 3 p.m. when a man wearing a blue and white sweat suit and carrying a bag entered the building. Police gave the following account:
The man opened a bag and pulled out a gun, which was apparently the signal for the other four men to enter. They forced employees and customers, including an off-duty state trooper and his wife, to lie down.
At least one man vaulted the counter and forced a teller into a vault, where he scooped up some money. A female employee inside the building then telephoned police, who rushed to the building.
Four of the men fled. The trooper followed them outside and saw some of them drive off in a 1988 blue Nissan. But the man in the sweat suit moved more slowly. By the time he got outside, the others were gone and a Baltimore County police cruiser and a detective car were pulling up, arriving within a few minutes of the call for help.
The man walked around the side of the building and re-entered through a door leading to the stairwell. He encountered four men and ordered them to lie on the floor, where police later found them.
The gunman then went to the second floor, where he burst into the telecommunications office. After forcing up some of the ceiling tiles in a desperate search for a way out, he decided to take his stand in the room, beginning a hostage situation that lasted about an hour.
Seven other employees hid in another second-floor office, and 36 people sought shelter in the basement.
After the man burst into their second-floor office, Ms. Brinkley said, he forced female employees to stand at the office door and windows "so that if the police shot they would hit them first."
"He said that he was the shotgun bandit and we should know who he is," she said.
"He said that for every one that was captured, others would be recruited."
Ms. Brinkley said the robber stalked around the room, "waving his gun" and making racist and religious remarks and reciting what sounded like a "Muslim prayer." But he did not threaten anyone specifically with the weapon.
Frances Perry, 65, of Parkville, a part-time worker, said she feared for her life.
"It was frightening," she said. "I'm expecting a new grandchild in April, and I thought I may never see it."
She said the gunman "was confused, upset and frightened himself" but finally said that "he did not want to hurt us."
Eventually, the man began to release hostages, blacks and a Eurasian woman first and then older employees until he had four women left, Ms. Brinkley said. The man then talked on the telephone with a police hostage negotiator.
"His only demand was to talk to his buddies. When he found out his buddies had gotten away, he gave himself up," said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a Baltimore County police spokesman.
Police told him that no one had been hurt, that he faced only robbery charges and that he should release the remaining hostages and surrender. Police refused his bid to keep the hostages until he had surrendered.
"They took a very hard line with him," Sergeant Doarnberger said.
The man -- whose identity still had not been confirmed by police late last night -- eventually agreed to leave his weapon inside and lie down in a stairwell, where police arrested him. A 9mm Beretta automatic was recovered.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.