Police still following clues after Monday morning robbery
by: Darryl Swan, Police investigators inspect a grated vent on the roof of the Dollar Tree store in  St. Helens Monday morning. An employee was ambushed by a masked, gun-wielding man after opening the store shortly before 8 a.m. Monday, and it is believed the man gained entrance through the attic.

A masked man robbed a variety store in St. Helens early Monday morning, making off with an undertmined amount of cash. Police say the suspect is still at large as of Tuesday morning.

The robbery at the Dollar Tree in St. Helens, located at 58729 Columbia River Highway, occurred when an employee arrived for work before 8 a.m. After opening the store, the employee discovered the man already inside.

The suspect, who is described as a white man in his 20s and wearing a gray sweatshirt with green markings, was wearing a black ski mask and brandishing a handgun at the employee. The suspect tied up the employee before taking cash and exiting the store through the front door.

It is believed the suspect may have entered the store through the attic after using a ladder to reach the rooftop. Police investigators were seen on the roof of the Dollar Tree inspecting a grated vent cover leading into the attic.

The employee, who police are not naming at the moment, was able to work one hand free to call 9-1-1 for help.

'She was extremely scared. She was shaken,' said Sgt. Rick Graham with the St. Helens Police Department. 'It's a scary thing for anyone to go through.'

The call was fielded at the dispatch center in St. Helens around 7:49 a.m., and relayed to the police at 7:51 a.m. One St. Helens officer was in front of the McDonald's restaurant north of the Dollar Tree when he received the call.

The officer responded as the call came in, but there was no sign of the suspect.

'Two minutes is huge,' Graham said regarding the difference between the when the employee made the call and when it was relayed to the officer.

A perimeter was set up as the police units entered the Dollar Tree store to clear it. Also, nearby St. Helens High School was placed on lockdown for around an hour until it was clear the suspect did not head that direction.

'We've got to be safe,' Graham said. 'What if he ran over there?'

A St. Helens canine unit tracked the man headed south of the Dollar Tree on Highway 30, towards Scappoose. Graham said evidence of the suspect's passage was picked up from the canine tracks.

The robbery occurred two weeks after the Sears store in Scappoose on Highway 30 was robbed at gunpoint by two men on Feb. 21. One of the suspects in that case was carrying a handgun.

The suspects in the Sears robbery made off with cash and electronic equipment. Police are still searching for the culprits.

Anyone with information about either robbery should call the St. Helens Police Department at 503-397-3333, the Scappoose Police Department at 503-543-3114, or call dispatch at 503-397-1521.

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