While Baltimore-area police think the bandits who formed the core of the so-called "shotgun gang" are dead or in jail, the gang's apparent imitators continued to terrorize businesses yesterday.
A trigger-happy band of five or six men brandishing semiautomatic 9mm pistols robbed 29 patrons and employees and fired at least 13 shots in a crowded York Road restaurant before dawn yesterday, but caused no injuries.
A few hours later, a lone man with a shotgun held up a Taco Bell in Parkville as the manager was heading to the bank to deposit the previous night's receipts. Again, no one was injured.
Both incidents, police said, had some of the earmarks of previous shotgun gang robberies but probably were the work of copycats. Yesterday's holdups brought to more than 90 the number of Baltimore-area robberies blamed on what police say was a highly organized gang or on its less skilled imitators since last October.
Dennis S. Hill, a spokesman for the Baltimore police, said yesterday that patrol units would begin "paying special attention" to 24-hour convenience stores, restaurants and gas stations in the wake of the robbery of the International House of Pancakes in the 5200 block of York Road.
About 4:30 a.m. yesterday, five or six gunmen, one of them wearing a blue ski mask and the rest with their faces partially concealed by the hoods on their jackets, walked into the blue-roofed restaurant carrying handguns, police and restaurant employees said.
Joseph Diggs, a retired state worker who was standing near the entrance, said the robbers pushed two patrons who were leaving back toward their seats. "I want the cash drawer open," Mr. Diggs recalled one of the robbers saying. "I want the safe open."
None of the employees had the combination to the safe, Mr. Diggs said, so the bandits proceeded to empty the contents of the cash register into a plastic bag.
Then, cursing and shouting directions to one another, they walked around collecting cash and wallets from all of the workers and customers.
Mr. Diggs, who was robbed of $6, said that the robbers did not hit or otherwise abuse anyone and that he did not see any of the victims resist. But for some reason "one guy fired up in the air and the other guys all started shooting around," he said. Restaurant workers and customers dived to the floor.
The bandits fled, driving a black car north on York Road, Mr. Hill said.
The gunfire left silver dollar-sized holes in two windows, nickel-sized holes in the vaulted dining room ceiling and a smashed toaster. One bullet dislodged an acoustic ceiling tile in the entrance way. The bandits walked out with about $1,500 from the restaurant and an undetermined amount of cash from customers, police said.
"Quite a few of the customers were shaken quite a bit, especially the young ladies," Mr. Diggs said.
Sue Smith, the owner of the restaurant, said one of her employees told her that he was so scared he lay on the floor until the police arrived several minutes after the bandits had left.
Mr. Hill said the city robbery squad decided that the House of Pancakes bandits lacked the discipline and finesse to be part of the shotgun gang.
"They were inside for 10 minutes, which is very, very long," Mr. Hill said. "They appeared disorganized -- they were shouting directions at each other."
They also did not use a timer -- a man whose job is to tell the shotgun gang how many minutes have passed and call off the robbery if it takes too long. And, Mr. Hill added, they began shooting for no apparent reason.
The Parkville Taco Bell, in the 2300 block of East Joppa Road, was robbed just after 9 a.m., when a man wearing a blue ski mask and carrying a sawed-off shotgun grabbed the manager as he was about to get into his car, said Baltimore County police Sgt. James Patrick O'Brien.
The robbery was similar to several in October, when Baltimore County police started tracking the shotgun gang. In those thefts, the victims were met at gunpoint as they were about to enter or leave their businesses.
The manager told police he was preparing to drive to the bank to deposit the restaurant's receipts when the gunman ordered him back inside and told him to line up against the wall with other employees, Sergeant O'Brien said.
The gunman took the money, ran from the restaurant and climbed into a blue Chrysler, which headed north on Joppa Road.
An employee of the Taco Bell said yesterday that the restaurant had not determined how much had been taken.
Sergeant O'Brien said the holdup was most likely the work of a copycat, not a member of the shotgun gang. Mr. Hill said the robbery on York Road and the robbery in Parkville did not appear to be connected.
Police said previously that they believed that the four men who made up the core of the shotgun gang were involved in the holdup of a Wilmington, Del., bank Thursday. One of the $H suspected gang members was killed, two were wounded and a fourth was arrested following a shootout with police outside the bank.
One of the wounded men, Michael Montell Boston, 22, of Annapolis, has been arrested for his alleged role in the shotgun gang's March 7 robbery of the State Credit Union in Towson. A detective in Wilmington said yesterday that Mr. Boston was still listed in critical condition in a hospital there.