Disturbance closes The Grotto, as police hunt troubled suspect

Known world-wide as Portland’s place for tranquility and meditation, see why The Grotto was cleared by police and remained closed for a day ‚Ķ

As many as 30 Portland Police Bureau officers cordoned off a large area around The Grotto, searching for a man said to be carrying a weapon.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
One vehicle after another was turned away from The Grotto on August 18.

“Why are they closed?” asked the driver of a passenger-filled mini-van with Idaho license plates.

“There is a police action in the area, sir,” responded East Precinct’s Officer Shadron, his patrol car parked blocking NE Skidmore St. at Sandy Blvd.

Disturbed man disrupts gift shop
The afternoon-long police action started in a nearby home and moved to The Grotto’s gift shop.

“I had just started celebrating Mass when this took place,” said Father Jack Topper, the executive director of the facility. “A woman came into our gift shop, our employees told me. They said a man followed her in and was shouting at her. It was more of a verbal abuse thing. Our employee called the police and he took off.”

Father Jack Topper, executive director of The Grotto, tells news reporters that the only previous time the grounds have been shut down was during severe weather.

Topper said he didn’t know whether or not the man was brandishing a weapon. “I did see the woman in our parking lot. She was upset, and said she was sad that this situation was causing a problem.”

Dragnet for suspect begins

As officers fan out around The Grotto searching for suspect Robert Wimbish, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs talks with his officers as they plan their next step.

“It started as a domestic violence call off NE Skidmore,” was the word from Sgt. Brian Schmautz, spokesman for Portland Police Bureau. “The victim knew a suspect who showed up today, identified as 35-year-old Robert Wimbish. From what we’ve learned, he’s acting angry delusional, and perhaps has some mental health issues. We understand he hasn’t slept in days, and he’s been using controlled substances for quite some time.”

Police say this man, Robert Wimbish, threatened a woman in The Grotto’s gift shop. Their concern: he may have had a weapon with him.

Schmautz said, the while they hadn’t seen a weapon, the victim told police that Wimbish did have a weapon with him. “We’re trying to isolate where he is, and if he is a danger to himself or anyone.”

After several hours, the Portland Police SERT team was brought in to search a house in which officers suspected Wimbish was hiding.

Watchfully waiting
“I’ve seen several younger men coming and going,” is what across-the-street neighbor Jay Cowan told us. “This person looked like an older man than the others. There haven’t been any problems at the house that I’ve seen.”

When asked why the police hadn’t stormed the home where they thought Wimbish might be hiding out, Schmautz said, “It is her house. We don’t know if he is in there. Right now, we don’t know whether going in will help or hurt the situation.”

Taking no chances, SERT officers hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Officers from the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) assembled as their armored vehicle arrived. They approached the house, and then made entry.

Minutes later, Schmutze told us, “SERT has cleared the victim’s home and confirmed that the suspect has left the immediate area. Officers did seize one long-barreled firearm.” He added that Wimbish is currently wanted on a Multnomah County warrant, and faces additional charges because of this incident.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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