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Stephen J. Lee, Published December 16 2009

UPDATE: GF police: Armed masked man robs Big Cigs store; appears similar to last week's trio of armed robberies

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Grand Forks police say a masked man with a gun robbed the Big Cigs Valley Dairy store on North Fifth Street shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday and got away with money.

Several officers were quickly at the store, at 1207 N. 5th St., next to a Dairy Queen — closed for the season — on the city’s near north side, interviewing employees.

One employee who came out for a smoke said he was told not to talk to the media.

Police Sgt. Bill Wyatt said they got the call at 5:51 p.m. from Big Cigs.

Clerks at the store said a man wearing dark clothing with a masked face and a handgun walked in, demanded money and fled with it.

The man was described as 5 feet, 8 inches to 5 feet, 11 inches tall, with a medium build, wearing a black sweatshirt, black pants and a black handkerchief or bandana mask with a clown design.

Although a search dog was used to track the suspect, no one has been arrested yet, he said.

It appears it might be the same man who police think is one individual who used a gun to rob three other businesses last week, Wyatt said.

“We are going to make that assumption, but we don’t know for sure until we get a chance to get a look at the (security) video.”

The clerk did not see the man hold a gun in his hand, but saw a handgun in his waistband, Wyatt said.

Anytime a weapon is used in such manner during a robbery, it is viewed as an armed robbery, he said.

A man walked into M&H Gas store a few blocks south on Fifth Street at 6:40 p.m. and warned the clerk there that he had witnessed the robbery at Big Cigs about a half hour earlier. The man men-tioned something about a gun being used by the apparent robber he said he saw.

The clerk at M&H confirmed the man talked to her about the robbery, but declined to give any details of what he said.

Wyatt said several customers were in the Big Cigs parking lot when they arrived on the scene.

The crime is the latest in an unusual spate of not dissimilar robberies and reported burglaries in Grand Forks the past week.

Three businesses, Simonson Station Store, 310 Gateway Drive on Saturday, and the Fairfield Inn on 34th Street South and Discontent on South Washington last week, were robbed by a man bran-dishing a handgun and wearing a mask or face-covering in cases police think are linked.

Three other Grand Forks businesses reported apparent burglaries in recent days in cases police have not linked to other crimes.

Big Cigs is two blocks from the Simonson Station Store.

No suspects have been identified or arrested in the previous six cases.

Anyone with information should call the police at (701) 787-8000.

Herald Staff Writer Brad Schlossman contributed to this report.