Police entered the Palo Alto Bowl shortly before 2 p.m. today and began a "slow search" of the bowling alley on El Camino Real in South Palo Alto as of 2 p.m. -- not knowing for sure if an armed robber is hiding inside.
An estimated 40 officers from several police jurisdictions surrounded the bowling alley following an attempted holdup at 8:45 a.m. this morning, in which the bowling alley General Manager Harvey King was shot in the neck.
King underwent surgery at Stanford Hospital and is reportedly recovering well.
Palo Alto police Sgt. Sandra Brown said the officers will do an initial slow search of the entire building, followed by a second slow search. Then if no one is found they will send in a K-9 dog unit.
She said officers are becoming more convinced that the would-be robber may have fled the building before the police arrived, a possible anticlimax to a dramatic day.
The robber was described as a white male wearing a black ski cap, a black shirt with white letters on the front, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, and between 25 and 35 years old. He was carrying a dark backpack, Brown reported.
In a punctuation to the five-hour standoff, two "flash-bang" grenades were set off inside the Palo Alto Bowl at 12:38 p.m. as part of an apparent rescue of a female employee who had hidden in her locked office.
SWAT teams who had moved in to flank the front door reversed the process and, accompanied by the woman, backed away from the building soon after the flash-bang grenades were detonated. Such grenades make an extremely loud bang and intense flash, disorienting those nearby.
Police confirmed the rescued woman was in telephone communication with police from inside her office, and that she believed the man was still in the building.
About 12:30 p.m. a half-dozen members of the Palo Alto-Mountain View joint SWAT team approached the front door of the bowling alley, walking slowly behind a large green SUV before taking positions on either side of the door.
Two television crews, a reporter and photographer were moved out of a possible line of fire from the front door, as police prepared to enter the building.
The standoff and seige began after an armed man attempted to rob the Palo Alto Bowl at 8:45 a.m. today and shot King in the neck, triggering a massive police response that surrounded the bowling alley and blocked traffic on El Camino Real.
King, 60, walked out of the bowling and and was taken to Stanford Hospital for surgery after 11 a.m., according to Brown.
Police earlier evacuated nearby residents and businesses and cordoned off El Camino, causing a traffic snarls on side streets throughout the south Palo Alto area.
Police activated the city's Teleminder telephone-alert system in the neighborhood about 11 a.m.
Police closed El Camino from Charleston Road to just north of San Antonio Road, causing a traffic jam on side streets. Police cars and several Palo Alto fire engines, with numerous police officers on foot, surrounded the bowling alley, at 4329 El Camino.
Police initially set up a command post overlooking the bowling alley from the Courtyard by Marriott hotel across El Camino. But shortly before 11:30 a.m. police command officials decided to move the command center for the press to a nearby 76 Union service station further away and to evacuate the hotel, or at least the part facing El Camino directly.
At 11:30 a.m. the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, dressed in camouflage, arrived at the scene to add to officers from Los Altos and Mountain View departments. Several Palo Alto Fire Department trucks, including a paramedic van, were on standby.
Several birthday parties had been scheduled for throughout the day, the first scheduled for 10:30 a.m. About a noon a man carrying a wrapped gift and his young daughter showed up for a party and were turned away.
The bowling alley normally opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, and birthday parties are popular on Saturdays.
Kathie Hawkins, the bowling alley's auditor for the past 18 years, told the Weekly that King had just been promoted to general manager two weeks ago and had just celebrated his 60th birthday.
She said he was there to assure that all was ready for the numerous parties and bowling activities scheduled during the day.
But she was puzzled by the would-be robbers' timing.
"I don't really understand somebody coming by this early," she said. "There's not that much money in the building."