Police are hunting for two armed men who sparked a dramatic lockdown at the Hoyts cinema complex at Westfield Warrawong yesterday.
Heavily armed police stormed the King Street building shortly after 6am after reports of two men on the loose, armed with rifles.
The entire shopping complex was shut down, streets were closed and up to 100 onlookers watched from a car park across the road as the specialist police, with weapons drawn, darted in and out of the building.
After six hours, police called off the search, unable to locate the suspects, and declared the shopping centre safe to enter.
Officers were examining CCTV footage which they hoped would provide a breakthrough in their hunt for the men.
‘‘Police are working closely with centre management reviewing footage, and we are still compiling a description from witnesses,’’ Lake Illawarra’s Superintendent Michael McLean said.
In the meantime, police were satisfied the building has been thoroughly cleared by tactical officers and shop owners and the community could be confident the building was safe.
Security guards at Westfield raised the alarm shortly before 6am yesterday and police were on the scene in minutes.
‘‘On arrival they took into custody a 27-year-old Warrawong woman who was previously detained by security at the centre,’’ Mr McLean said.
‘‘Initial inquiries at the scene suggest she was in company with another two persons and they were believed to be armed with firearms.
‘‘There was no information to suggest those males had in fact left the premises.’’
Police blocked King Street between Cowper Street and Northfield Drive, and kept the large crowd at bay behind police tape in the car park across the road.
McDonald’s did a roaring trade from stranded workers waiting for clearance.
State Protection Support Unit officers searched the building with police dogs while PolAir conducted aerial patrols.
Shopping centre alarms were activated sporadically throughout the morning.
‘‘A thorough search of the premises failed to locate the two males,’’ Mr McLean said, calling an end to the search about midday.
‘‘There was a period of time obviously between when security detained that female ... and when the police arrived, so we’re considering the possibility that those males escaped prior to police attendance.’’
Mr McLean said police believed the men had entered through an unlocked door.
He denied the suspects were on the run from an earlier armed hold-up.
Mr McLean said no firearms had been found on the premises.