Coral Gables proceeds with annual tree lighting day after armed robbery, police chase

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - The city of Coral Gables held its annual tree lighting ceremony as planned, one day after an armed robbery at a local jewelry store led to a cross-county police chase that left four people dead.

On Friday, Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak assured the public that the annual tree lighting, held near the jewelry store located along the 300 block of Miracle Mile where the robbery took place, would be a safe event.

“In light of the events from yesterday, both here in Coral Gables and in Broward County, our security plan has been in place, will continue to be in place,” Hudak said. “It has been enhanced, but I also want to reiterate exactly how safe we believe this event has been and will continue to be. We are always prepared for the visitors, and we are always prepared for the unknown.”

However, some are finding it hard to focus on the fun when something horrific started just steps away.

“That’s just so sad,” Reese Fuller, who is visiting Coral Gables, said. “I’m still processing it myself. It’s such a beautiful area, and in the spirit of the holidays, you want to be able to enjoy that and appreciate that, but it’s terrible that this has been marred by such a horrible event.”

“We’re going to come together, and we’re going to say, ‘You know what? It happened, but it’s not the end of the world, and we’re going to move on,'” resident Sarah Gonzalez said. “You know, you don’t want bad things to happen, but bad things happen everywhere, and we can’t let that stop us from carrying on and doing what our community does.”

According to police, two armed men went inside Regent Jewelers to rob it, and multiple shots were fired outside of it, Thursday afternoon.

“And I hear, ‘Wow, somebody is shooting,’ and it was right here,” a nearby business employee said.

One bullet went through the window of Coral Gables City Hall, which is across the street from the store. The projectile nearly missed City Clerk Billy Urquia, who was sitting inside.

“The first call we got was a silent hold-up alarm at the store,” Hudak said Thursday night. “Then, we got another alarm from city hall.”

A jewelry store employee was injured by gunfire in the chaos and was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. Hudak said she underwent surgery Thursday night and is doing well.

Meanwhile, the men took off in a U-Haul truck. Police said the two dumped it minutes later and carried out a carjacking and kidnapping of a UPS driver along the 1200 block of Mariana Avenue.

Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Hill, both 41, would then flee from police. Surveillance video sent by a 7News viewer showed the truck making a wrong turn and abruptly stopping to escape a street with no way out.

The chase would lead to a shootout with officers in rush hour traffic on Miramar Parkway. In the end, they were shot dead, along with two innocent people, including the UPS driver.

A day later, the jewelry store remains closed, and the annual tree lighting went on, but not without the haunted memories of what happened.

“Tonight, I promise you that this is going to be a great event, and they are going to welcome Santa Claus, and we’re going to be able to light the tree and start the Christmas season,” Hudak said.

7News cameras captured Santa Claus arriving to the celebration on board a fire truck.

Residents like April Jones came out to see the city’s large Christmas tree being lit up for the first time.

“To see the lights and the kids excited and the music and everything, it’s great,” Jones said.

During Friday night’s ceremony, Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Faulk gave his respects to those who lost their lives.

“Our condolences go to the victims of that senseless tragedy,” he said.

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