At least three masked men robbed a Tamaqua store at gunpoint this morning, getting away with an undetermined amount of cash.
Tamaqua Police are in the process of investigating the robbery, which occured at We R Cigarettes, 34 Mauch Chunk Street, at approximately 9:10 a.m.
"It was probably the most frightening thing that ever happened to me," said Ed Paperman, owner of We R Cigarettes, which also operates as a check cashing business as well as a cigarette store. "I never had a gun pointed at me like that before."
Paperman explained that he came to the store shortly after 9 a.m. this morning and there were about 10 people already inside the store, waiting in line at the counter.
As Paperman went to check his back door, he said a guy, who was short in height, leaped over his counter and pointed a gun at him. The suspect was wearing a black ski coat and a white skeleton mask, carrying what looked like a "red Santa Claus bag," according to Paperman.
"I couldn't believe someone could jump over that counter and not knock anything over," said Paperman.
Paperman was later told by witnesses in the store at the time that the weapon appeared to be an Uzi, he said.
The suspect then asked Paperman to empty the register. Paperman said he turned off his radio and scanner before giving them money.
Paperman said he would not know how much money the robbers took until he did an inventory.
Meanwhile, other men, wearing ski masks, had the rest of the customers get down on the floor. "They pointed the automatic (weapon) and said 'everybody get down'," said one of the witnesses.
As the robbers were leaving, one of them struck a male customer on the head. The customer was seen outside bleeding from his head and was treated by ambulance. No one else was injured.
Paperman said money was all the robbers took from the store, although they also took cellphones from two people before leaving.
Tamaqua Chief of Police Dave Mattson and other officers were on the scene within minutes of the robbery, but the suspects had already fled the scene. Officers were busy interviewing witnesses to the incident.
Mattson said police are looking for 3-4 men involved with the robbery. The getaway vehicle was either a tan or maroon van, possibly a Chevy, which is believed to have been headed north on Mauch Chunk Street and Pine Street (Route 309). Police broadcasts have been made to be on the lookout for the men and the vehicle.
"What concerns me is that this was an armed robbery and that they were not afraid to hurt people," said Mattson.