An FBI agent was killed as agents closed in on three suspected bank robbers, and may have been shot accidentally by a fellow agent, the agency said.
Special Agent Barry Lee Bush, assigned to the FBI's Newark office, was shot Thursday as a stakeout team opened fire on the three armed men in two vehicles outside a PNC Bank branch on Route 22.
"Preliminarily, information suggests the agent may have been fatally wounded as a result of the accidental discharge of another agent's weapon during a dynamic arrest situation," the FBI said in a statement Thursday night.
Pedro Ruiz, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark office, said the suspects did not fire their weapons, which included two assault rifles and a handgun. He said he did not yet know how many shots were fired and would not elaborate on what led the agents to shoot.
Bush, 52, and his team were tracking a group of men believed to be responsible for at least four bank robberies, the FBI said. In two of them, the suspects had fired assault weapons while inside the bank, the agency said.
Gunshots were fired around noon as the stakeout team moved in to make arrests outside the Readington bank in north-central New Jersey. Two suspects, Wilfredo Berrios, 28, and Michael Cruz, 21, both of New Brunswick, were captured, officials said. The third man ran escaped on foot.
About 300 law enforcement officers were searching for the fugitive Thursday night, focusing on a 2-square-mile wooded area near the Fox Hollow Golf Club. He was identified by state police as Francisco Herrera-Genao, 22, of New Brunswick.
Berrios and Cruz were to be charged with attempted armed robbery of the Readington bank, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark said.
It was not immediately clear if the men had attorneys, and telephone listings for the men could not be located.
The FBI had started investigating Berrios, Cruz and Herrera-Genao after a March 2 bank robbery. A surveillance camera at a shopping center caught the masked gunmen abandoning a stolen Honda they had used in the robbery and getting into their "switch car," a rental vehicle that was traced to Berrios, according to the criminal complaint released by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
After his arrest, Cruz admitted the men were preparing to rob the Readington bank, according to the complaint. Cruz also said he, Berrios, Herrera-Genao and Efrain Lynn, 21, of New Brunswick, had robbed a bank in South Brunswick on March 16.
Lynn was arrested Thursday on a bench warrant unrelated to the bank robberies, federal prosecutors said.
Witnesses in Readington described a chaotic scene as the gunfire broke out.
Brian Agans, who works in an engine shop across from the bank, said he heard a "pop, pop, pop." He ran outside to make sure a mechanic wasn't having a problem with equipment, but instead saw law enforcement swarming.
"All hell was breaking loose. I've never seen so many police and authorities take action ever in my life," he said.
Bush joined the FBI in August of 1987, serving in Kansas City and transferring to Newark in 1991. He is survived by a wife and two grown children, the FBI said.
Associated Press writers Chris Newmarker, Angela Delli Santi and Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton, and Jeffrey Gold in Newark contributed to this report.