LIMA, Ohio - When leafing through pictures of their weekend trip to Gettysburg, Pa., students from Ohio State University's Lima campus can point out photos of the Civil War battlefield, the cemetery where President Lincoln delivered his famous address, and the bank where they witnessed an armed robbery.
It wasn't a scheduled stop on the three-day trip out of town. But according to both students and staff members, it was one of the most memorable.
Loaded into a caravan made up of three vans and a bus - painted scarlet and gray with a buckeye on the back - honors history students were trying to turn around in the parking lot of a bank Friday when they saw a masked man come out.
Members of the group admit they didn't mean to be the ones to spoil the robber's escape route. It was just a matter of timing.
“It was awesome that we were there and that we could do our part in stopping this,” said sophomore Eliot Walters, 20, who called 9-1-1 on his cell phone once students saw what was happening. “I thought to myself, this doesn't happen in real life.”
OSU spokesman Pam Joseph was one of the staff members driving a van about 1 p.m. Friday, when the group pulled into the parking lot of the First Carnegie Deposit in Washington, Pa. She said she remembered how quiet the parking lot was and thinking that the building was probably abandoned.
She also remembers the man coming out wearing a cheap mask and carrying a plastic bag and a gun.
“He looked at us and we looked at him. I don't think he could process that there were three vans and a bus in what was just an empty parking lot,” she said. “At first we were trying to rationalize why this man had a mask on. The gun gave it away.”
The caravan had apparently blocked the bank robber's getaway car, forcing him to try his escape on foot.
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, who were already on their way when they received Mr. Walters' call, the 53-year-old Washington man was arrested after he jumped down from a 25-foot wall a short distance away and was injured. Cpl. Lou Reda said he didn't know who was blocking the robber's escape route but that somebody had gotten in his way.
When the suspect, Harley Lowe, is released from the hospital he will be charged with armed robbery, the corporal said. “As soon as he's well enough to get out, we'll put him in jail,” he added.
Ms. Joseph admitted that the group did not stick around long enough to witness the arrest. Instead, the small caravan was back on the highway shortly thereafter, although students were not quite ready to give up their detective roles yet.
Mr. Walters said the students each spent time writing down what they remembered about the suspect - just in case police needed a description.
Of course, Mr. Walters remembered a stone-washed jacket while a classmate was sure it was flannel.
Ms. Joseph said that after two full days in Gettysburg, the group headed home and by coincidence ended up at the same exit for lunch. Students craving to know what happened two days earlier questioned employees of neighboring restaurants and even climbed through a dumpster to find earlier editions of the local newspaper.
The students then lined up for a photograph in front of the bank.
“I'm pretty sure they're never, ever going to forget this trip,” Ms. Joseph said. “I have to admit I love these trips, but this one was particularly exciting.”