The Army Ranger who became a bank robber

Luke Elliot Sommer
Luke Elliot Sommer (Photo: XY)

Luke Elliott Sommer is a former United States Army Ranger who became publicly known as a bank robber. He was born on June 26, 1986, in Peachland, British Columbia, Canada.

Early life and military career

Luke Sommer joined the Army on June 26, 2003, and was assigned to a basic training class at Sand Hill, Fort Benning Georgia on November 4, 2003, graduating on January 27, 2004. After completing OSUT (One Station Unit Training) attended and completed Airborne School on Fort Benning prior to attending the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) in the green fence at Ranger Training Detachment. After completing RIP Sommer was sent to Fort Lewis Washington to the 1st Platoon (Madslashers), Charlie Company, 2nd battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Sommer was at the unit for less than three weeks before he left his girlfriend and newborn son and was shipped to Baghdad, Iraq, where he remained until September 2004. During his time in Iraq, he was part of the Task Force 6-26.

Sommer and Olinger in Iraq 2004
Sommer and Olinger in Iraq, 2004

After returning from Iraq, Sommer conducted Ranger convalescent skill training which includes hotwiring vehicles, operating heavy machines and basic EMT courses. After spending six months in the United States, Sommer was again deployed with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, overseas, this time to Bagram, Afghanistan.

After Sommer returned from Afghanistan in September 2005, he was sent to the United States Army Ranger School. Sommer spent nearly seven months completing the highly prestigious military leadership school, and although he had to restart the school twice, Sommer managed to complete the school on April 7, 2006.

After attending Ranger School, court documents assert that Sommer began recruiting and training several members of his unit and two civilians for what was called a robbery with “military-style precision and planning.” After the robbery, Sommer was arrested and detained in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre where other prisoners such as Rakesh Saxena and Robert William Pickton were also held. Sommer was released on bail in September 2006 and was then placed under house arrest.

The heist

On August 7, 2006, four men brandishing weapons robbed the Bank of America branch in South Tacoma of $54,011. While two robbers with automatic rifles covered the bank’s entrances, the other two, with handguns, moved swiftly to confront the tellers. The gang’s leader wielded a 9-mm Glock 19 with a red laser sight, which he pointed threateningly at the employees. While one of the door guards called out the elapsed time, Luke Elliott Sommer, the gang leader, vaulted over the teller counter and barged behind the bandit barrier into the cages, shouting threats and commands. He ordered the tellers to give him only stacks of banded $20, $50 and $100 bills and not to include any bait money, with prerecorded serial numbers, or dye packs. His assistant collected the money from the teller stations and took $20,000 from a money cart inside the vault. At the two-minute mark, the timekeeper shouted: “Let’s go!” The gang exited the bank with $54,011 stuffed into duffel bags, ran down a side street into an alley, but the getaway car was not there.

The driver had panicked and started driving, alone, back to the base. He quickly realized he was driving the wrong way and after making a U-turn, spotted his friends. Figuring he must have been driving down the street to turn around, the four ran to the car and made their getaway.

According to the bank surveillance camera, the robbery, executed with military precision, took place in just two minutes and 21 seconds.

Sommer's weaponry found after he was arrested
Sommer’s Arsenal (Photo: Wiki)

The gang was tracked down because they failed to remove the front license plate from their getaway vehicle. A bystander noted the number and passed it to the police. Within three days of the robbery, FBI agents arrested Alex Blum at his parents’ home in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Blum confessed to driving the getaway car and named the other members of the gang, including Luke Elliott Sommer.

Aftermath

On December 15, 2008, Sommer was sentenced to 24 years in prison and 5 years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Commit Armed Bank Robbery, Armed Bank Robbery, Brandishing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, and Possession of an Unregistered Destructive Device (Hand Grenade).

Sommer received significant media attention in 2006 after revealing his robbery role in an interview with Seattle Weekly. He was interviewed by a variety of television, radio and print outlets, including but not limited to National Public Radio (US), The National Post (Canada),[9] Rolling Stone Magazine (US), the Seattle Times and the New York Times. This attention stemmed from his Ranger background, his assertion that the AK-47 assault rifles used in the robbery were smuggled back from Iraq.

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime

After pouring hot sauce into his eyes to keep himself awake no longer worked, Army Pfc. Alex Blum began snorting chewing tobacco. When that failed, he cut his earlobe with a knife.

Still, after being pushed to strenuous physical activity for over 30 hours, he could barely keep his eyes open.

The months he spent training to be an Army Ranger tormented him physically and psychologically and left him changed as a person. They may even have turned him into a bank robber.

That’s the claim of a new book “Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime” (Doubleday), written by Alex’s cousin Ben Blum — who describes how a good kid with a dream to serve his country made a rapid descent into criminality.

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