Tracking dogs led investigators late Monday to an area under a bridge in Fort Mitchell, Ala., where two fugitives were hiding after robbing a nearby grocery store, authorities said.
Within a half hour or so of sniffing, the beagles, borrowed from Ventress Correctional Facility in Barbour County, traced the scents of Robert James Gary, 18, and Nakavius Delontay Gary, 19, cousins from Smiths Station, Ala.
Both men were charged with robbing the Rainbow Foods on Alabama 165 and assaulting two citizens who tried to thwart them. They allegedly stormed into the store wearing hoodies drawn tight around their faces and began pointing their weapons at various employees' heads, said Daniel Dauzat, a 20-year-old employee who was working late for security reasons.
"I just told them I don't know what's in my pockets," said Dauzat, who was more angry than frightened by the 9 p.m. intrusion. "I said you can look if you want to look."
Never miss a local story.
The robbers fled the area on foot, making off with less than $1,000 in cash and a supply of Newport cigarettes. One of the suspects eventually placed about $578 in his shoe.
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor praised the efforts of two young men who live near the store and chased the robbers north. Taylor said the young men began fighting in a field with one of the suspects as he sorted the money. The second robber returned and began firing upon them, he said, striking one in the arm and the other in both of his legs.
"I'm so sorry they ended up getting into it like they did, but at least they've caught the guys and that's a big thing," said Bill McBride, the store's manager. "It's just something that I wish hadn't have happened because they weren't armed when they went after them, and it made it kind of rough for them."
Bullets caused "through and through" wounds to both young men -- whom Taylor declined to identify -- but both were treated and released and were expected to recover. "We can't say enough about how proud we are of those guys," Taylor said. "We are certainly thankful for what they did."
Russell County sheriff's officials arrived at the scene within nine minutes of the robbery, Taylor said, and began cordoning off the area.
The beagles arrived and quickly found the suspects under the Uchee Creek bridge, which Taylor estimated stands fewer than 400 yards away from the store. They were in custody by about 11:30 p.m., he said.
One of the suspects confessed, Taylor said, though he declined to specify who.
Investigators returned to the scene at daylight and recovered several pieces of evidence, including the hoodies and both guns used in the robbery. Almost all of the cash, including some blood-stained bills, was recovered, the sheriff said.
"All of these things are still being put together and still being processed," Taylor said, "but we have lots of DNA evidence in this case as well."
Taylor said investigators were looking into whether the suspects also were involved in a robbery last week of the Big Cat store on Ala. Highway 165.
Authorities said a person also took Newport cigarettes in that robbery.
Taylor said it's a hard call for citizens to know whether they should intervene and place themselves in harm's way during a crime. "I would certainly not recommend any citizen doing anything more than what they feel comfortable doing," he said.