SARANAC LAKE - Police were continuing their search today for two suspects who robbed and shot a local resident on the railroad tracks off of Pine Street Tuesday evening, the first intentional shooting in the area in many years.
Although police Chief Bruce Nason was initially reluctant to reveal the motive for the shooting, the dispatcher who answered the 911 call from the victim told the Enterprise this morning that he said he was robbed at gunpoint.
"He said he was robbed and shot," said Saranac Lake Head Fire Driver Rick Yorkey.
Saranac Lake Police Chief Bruce Nason, right, talks on the phone among a group of village police and state troopers Tuesday night near the intersection of Main Street and Pine Street, not far from where a local man was robbed and shot by two suspects who were still on the loose as of this morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Nason subsequently confirmed that robbery appears to be the motive for the shooting, and that the two suspects knew the victim.
"He did report to us that they did take money from him," Nason said, declining to say how much money, "and to calm people's fears, this does not appear to be a random act. There's nothing to support that whatsoever. The two alleged suspects knew the victim."
The incident happened around 7 p.m., when the male victim, whose name hasn't been released, called 911 on his cell phone to report that he had been shot in the shoulder by another person on the railroad trestle between Bloomingdale Avenue and Pine Street.
"As it's been reported to us, he was walking in one direction, and two people were on the bridge on the opposite side walking in the other direction," Nason said. "They had a brief conversation before one of them pulled a gun on him."
Nason said the victim, who is 55 years old and lives in Saranac Lake, was shot with what he described as a small-caliber rifle, possibly a .22. The two suspects then fled on foot, and the victim called for help.
Yorkey dispatched three members and one ambulance from the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad to the scene at 6:56 p.m. He said he initially had difficulty determining where the victim was calling from.
"He thought he was on the bridge to the Tupper road, and he ended up being on the trestle over the (Saranac) River," Yorkey said. "I think he was actually intoxicated; I'm not sure. He was talking funny."
"(The victim) was in the area where he was shot when our police officers arrived," Nason said. "He wasn't certain which direction they ran. When he got shot, he spun around and fell down."
Nason said the victim was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake with what the police chief initially described only as a wound. Nason later received confirmation from the hospital that the injury was "consistent with a gunshot wound."
Nason said the bullet didn't hit any vital organs and that the injury was not considered life threatening. He said this morning that the victim had been transferred overnight to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt. AMC spokesman Joe Riccio confirmed the victim was taken to Fletcher Allen by a North Country Life Flight helicopter at 10:20 p.m. Riccio didn't have any information on the victim's condition and the Enterprise was not able to get that information from Fletcher Allen without knowing the victim's name.
Police immediately launched a search for the two suspects, including the alleged shooter. The victim described them as two white males, both roughly 5 feet, 9 inches tall with stocky builds and wearing dark jackets, possibly parkas, the chief said.
Village and state police went door to door, interviewing more than 30 residents of the area to see if they may have seen anything. A half-dozen village and state police vehicles were parked along the north side of Main Street, near the intersection with Pine Street, around 9 p.m. Nason said as many as eight police officers, including village and state police, were involved in the manhunt.
"As of yet, nobody we've talked to has seen or heard anything," Nason said Tuesday night.
Police continued the investigation late into the night and were back at it early this morning.
"We're back at the scene with daylight and better visibility," Nason said. "Anybody we weren't able to talk to, like if we left a business card on somebody's door, we're going to go back, do follow-up interviews. As we go through the notes that the officers turned in, if something needs follow-up, we'll be doing that."
Nason said the victim told police that he remembers walking by someone of high school age who had a skateboard on Pine Street just minutes before the shooting.
"If anybody remembers walking in the area anytime from 6:15 to 6:45, or seeing someone carrying or riding their skateboard, call us," Nason said. "I'd encourage anybody in public who may have seen or heard anything from Main Street to Pine Street and all the way to Bloomingdale Avenue, if they saw anybody walking in the area or anything suspicious, to please call us."
Anyone with information that could assist in the investigation was asked to call the village police department at 518-891-4422.
The shooting happened just down the railroad tracks from where a Saranac Lake girl reported to police on Nov. 2, 2011, that she had been attacked by someone wielding a knife. Police later determined the girl - who had cuts to her face, hand and leg - had made the story up after causing the injuries to herself.
Asked if Tuesday night's shooting in any way reminded him of that incident, Nason said, "That thought did go through my mind, but until we can determine otherwise, his story has been consistent. It hasn't changed."
This is the first intentional shooting in the Tri-Lakes area since August 2007, when state Trooper Douglas Hoffman was shot in the leg by a Plattsburgh man outside of Tupper Lake. Nason said he couldn't recall off-hand the last time there was a shooting in Saranac Lake.
"I don't remember any," he said. "I'd have to go back through and search - nothing like this type of report that I recall in the last 10 to 15 years."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.