SpongeBob SquarePants AK-47 Robbery Spree Ends With Arrests

In the end, the police found SpongeBob SquarePants not in a pineapple under the sea, but hunkered down in an apartment complex off the Turnpike with three of his convenience store robbing cohorts.

Last night, Orlando cops finally closed in on the four men they say have been terrorizing Central Florida businesses with a wave of AK-47-armed robberies -- sometimes clad in a SpongeBob mask straight out of David Lynch's sickest nightmares.

Police arrested four men: Gabriel Alberto Aviles, Luis Manuel O'Neil-Rodriguez and Gary Alvelo-Aponte, who are all 21 years old, and 22-year-old Miguel Lopez-Vasquez.

Detectives have been looking for suspects since July, when the terrifying surveillance footage pictured above was captured during an armed robbery at an Orlando 7-11; the SpongeBob-masked assailant fired shots into a ceiling and toward a cashier, but no harm was done, other than to the psyches of cartoon-character fearing merchants everywhere.

The spree stretched into eight robberies from Orange to Osceola counties, the Orlando Sentinel reports, and with the gang picking up nearly $40,000 in loot.

The reign of terror's end came early on Tuesday morning when the gang tried to hold up a Best Vacation Inn, not realizing they were being tailed by detectives who'd been tipped off to their identity by a previous victim.

They followed the men back to their hideout at an apartment complex, and charged them with armed robbery with a firearm and assault, among other felonies.

None of the men have criminal backgrounds, other than a handful of traffic cases for Aviles', according to Riptide's records search.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink