PHOENIX — A bank robbery suspect who was shot and killed by a Phoenix police detective Saturday is the same man who killed a Mississippi police officer during a bank robbery Dec. 23, hours after attempting to rob a bank in Atlanta, the FBI said Sunday.
His criminal past includes an arrest in 2010 for making online threats against the president, Secret Service spokesman Max Millien told the Associated Press.
According to a story in The Oklahoman newspaper at the time, Mario Garnett – then a-38-year-old resident of Oklahoma City — pleaded guilty to the felony. He was ordered to get mental health treatment upon his release and also was barred from owning firearms.
Daniel McMullen, special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Jackson, Miss., said phone records indicated the suspect had been in Atlanta and Tupelo, Miss., when those robberies took place.
McMullen also cited numerous similarities in the crimes, including the clothing worn by the suspect, statements made during the robberies and the "overall modus operandi" of the robberies.
"While we are thankful that this dangerous individual is no longer a threat to the public, our thoughts and prayers remain with those officers and their families in Tupelo," said Ricky Maxwell, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Atlanta field office.
The crime spree Garnett, 40, is suspected of committing began the morning of Dec. 23 in Atlanta, where police said he attempted to rob a bank, failed, and instead robbed a customer at an ATM outside the building.
It continued on the afternoon of Dec. 23, when he robbed a BancorpSouth in Tupelo and ambushed two Tupelo officers, killing one and wounding another, to make his getaway, authorities said.
It ended Saturday morning in Phoenix outside the Compass Bank near 34th Avenue and Thomas Road, when a police detective fatally shot Garnett as Garnett was firing at a Phoenix police officer, police said. No officers or bystanders were injured, police said.
Officer James Holmes said the masked suspect had pointed a weapon at the bank manager and ordered him to open the teller drawers while demanding everyone else get on the ground. A witness waiting in line at a drive-through fast-food restaurant across the street called police at 10 a.m. and said he spotted a masked man going into the bank, police said.
"At some point, he (the robber) actually had the manger and one of the tellers open the vault," Holmes said.
The robber left with an undisclosed amount of money.
A Phoenix police officer responding to the call saw the suspect leaving the bank with a bag and a gun and ordered the man to stop, Holmes said. "The suspect … threw the bag into his car, he raised his weapon and he began firing at the officer," Holmes said.
The detective, in an unmarked vehicle, was in the area for an unrelated investigation when he also responded to the 911 call. The detective saw the officer retreating under fire, so he shot the suspect in the upper body, Holmes said.
The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. Holmes called the detective a hero and said he acted in textbook fashion.
"We had an officer that was obviously in distress, trying to get to cover as this suspect is shooting at him," he said.
"The detective did what he should have done. He responded, and because he responded, we have two officers that were involved in this ordeal and they're both alive."
Holmes said police have no other suspects. He said four people were in the bank, including a bystander, a 37-year-old manager, and two tellers, ages 25 and 26. No one was injured.
Agent McMullen said the suspect started his spree last Monday in Atlanta when he tried to rob a Bank of America branch at gunpoint. Unsuccessful, he then held up a man using the bank's ATM in the vestibule and fled in a gray sedan with an undisclosed amount of money, McMullen said.
Six hours later, the same person entered a BancorpSouth branch in Tupelo, Miss., through an employees-only entrance, McMullen said. Wearing a face mask and brandishing a handgun, he ordered tellers to open their drawers before filling sacks with an undisclosed amount of cash.
He then left the bank through the same door and fled in a late-model gray Chrysler 200 sedan.
Police Sgt. Gale Stauffer, 38, and his partner, officer Joseph Maher, 27, responded to the bank-generated alarms and pursued a white Chevrolet Tahoe believed to have been used in the heist, McMullen said. While the officers confronted that vehicle's driver on a downtown street, the bank robber ambushed and shot them, McMullen said.
Stauffer died; Maher was injured.
The suspect fled, prompting a nationwide manhunt and a reward for his identification and capture that grew to more than $200,000. News of the man's death brought comfort to the city of Tupelo and to Stauffer's widow.
"Thank you to all the agencies that worked tirelessly to get this job done," Beth Stauffer said at the press conference. "You'll forever be in our prayers. You've made it possible for us to move forward toward finding peace for the long road ahead. Gale would be so proud."
Said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton: "We can truly begin the healing process."