Armed prisoner on the run after breaking free from Washington area hospital

(Reuters) - An armed prisoner was on the run early on Tuesday after escaping from a hospital in northern Virginia close to Washington where a shot was fired during a struggle with a guard, police said.

The prisoner, identified as Wossen Assaye by the Fairfax County Police Department, broke free from a private security guard at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, and fled with the guard's weapon, the department said on its Twitter account.

Police said he was thought to be driving a stolen car identified as a 2002 Toyota Camry with damage to the front and the licence plate number of XZP-8153. They also said Assaye might be with his girlfriend, whose photo was posted on Twitter but who was not named.

Assaye had been held by the nearby city of Alexandria on federal charges of armed bank robbery and was taken to a local hospital after he tried to harm himself, according to police.

While at the medical centre, Assaye overpowered the guard and took his gun, police said. One shot was fired, but no one was injured, police said.

Roads around the hospital were shut down as authorities from several different agencies searched for the suspect, who was dressed only in a hospital gown, police said.

The hospital was also locked down and employees were told to go to a local high school to board a shuttle bus to the facility, police said.

Footage posted online by local broadcaster WJLA showed a heavy police presence outside the hospital, with several squad cars on surrounding streets.

Representatives of the hospital, which is situated about 24 km west of Washington D.C., could not immediately be reached for comment.