We tend to take for granted that the terrible misfortunes we see on the nightly news befalling people every day will never ever happen to us. Perhaps that is so for the majority of folks. But it is not certain by any means.
By the time I was 30 I had already experienced more than my share of personal misfortune.
When I was 16 I was in a terrible car accident, the result of an inattentive driver running a red light one particularly foggy morning. The car I was a passenger in got t-boned (on my side). The last thing I remember before the impact was looking to my right as we entered the intersection and seeing a pair of headlights bearing down on us through the fog like a laser beam.
The resulting crash put me in the hospital for more than two weeks and required two surgeries and six months of rehabilitation — but that was a relative cakewalk compared to the terror I experienced the following year.
The First Armed Robbery
I used to work at a local supermarket and, although I probably worked a thousand shifts as a box boy and clerk, I’ll never ever forget one shift in particular.
It was a weekend shift and the place was hopping. The front lobby was a mass of humanity with all nine checkout counters open and at least two or three people waiting in line for each register.
Adding to the controlled chaos was the fact that I was one of only two box boys on duty that day, as somebody had called in sick, and so I was frantic trying to keep all the counters from backing up with crushed groceries.
A few minutes before noon my attention was directed to the screeching tires of a car that had violently backed up in front of the large double glass entrance doors to the supermarket.
At first I didn’t really think too much about it; I figured it was simply some ticked-off driver who decided to park in the no-parking zone because he couldn’t find a parking space.
I was wrong.
The next thing I knew three guys wearing pantyhose over their faces stormed into the lobby screaming at the top of their lungs.
At first I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but as they continued to scream, people stopped their own discussions and the din within the store slowly gave way.
“Nobody move, Motherf*****s! Hands in the air!”
That’s when I also noticed the sawed-off shot guns they were holding.
One of the robbers turned his gun on the people in the checkout line, shouting obscenities and telling them to keep their hands in the air.
Another robber went directly to my friend, Louie, who was the checkout clerk on the express lane at counter nine; the robber began screaming at him to open the register. Louie was a very kind older man of about 55 or so who had come to America from Vietnam. Louie kept his cool, but had trouble opening the register.
At this point, I was still in a state of disbelief at what was happening. Part of the reason was I was at the opposite end from where these guys entered the store, bagging groceries for a customer at register one.
In the back of my mind, I still hadn’t truly processed the danger that we were all in. The whole thing was so surreal.
While all this was going on, the third robber started yelling at the other checkers to get their registers open too. That’s when it hit me: Uh oh, this guy is making a bee-line right for me! And he has a sawed-off shotgun in his hands!
“Get on the floor, Motherf*****!”
Unfortunately for me, I was blocking his access to check stand number one. And even though I heard the robber’s command, my legs wouldn’t move because I was paralyzed with fear.
So he screamed his command again: “I said get on the floor, Motherf******!”
Still, I couldn’t move — so he threw me to the ground, face down. The guy then took his shotgun, placed it on the back of my head, and told me not to move or he’d blow my head off. Upon hearing that, a woman screamed.
I thought my life was over. This guy was clearly pissed at me because I was slowing them down.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that swim through your brain when somebody has a gun to your head. Aside from fear, the most powerful feeling I experienced was utter helplessness. You’re literally at the mercy of somebody who couldn’t care less if you live or die; as a result, your life literally hangs in the balance.
I remember thinking: What is it going to feel like when he pulls the trigger? I remember thinking about my mom and dad and sister, and I prayed to God too.
It seemed like an eternity, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute before the robbers finished their job. That’s when they bolted out the door and tore out of the parking lot.
I still remember my unsympathetic manager yelling at me to “Go get the license number of the car!” as they sped away.
The Second Armed Robbery
Ten years after the first robbery, I was eating at a pizza joint with a couple friends very late one evening when three guys stormed into the restaurant — with their handguns drawn.
What’s kind of funny is, as it became apparent what was happening, I said to my two friends, “Here we go again.” This time I promised myself I would keep my wits.
One of the robbers screamed at the manager to take them to the safe.I was hoping that all three were going to accompany the manager to the safe. Unfortunately, only two robbers went to the back room.
The other guy came into the dining room — handgun drawn — and ordered us to put our heads face down on the table. At the time there were maybe eight or ten people total eating in the dining room, that’s it.
This time I was quite worried because these guys didn’t wear masks and I feared they might decide to kill us all rather than risk being identified.
Surprisingly, the guy holding us in the dining room didn’t ask for our wallets or money. They just wanted the money from the safe.
Although my head was buried on the table, I could hear everything that was going on in the back room and it wasn’t good. Unbelievably, the manager was trying to be a hero, saying he didn’t have the combination — but the robbers weren’t buying it. In fact, it sounded like they began to physically assault him.
Soon after, a gun shot rang out and that’s when I thought this was really going to be the end.
Surprisingly, nobody in the dining room made a peep. I really expected one of the women to scream, but they all kept their composure.
After the shot, I heard the manager say something like “Okay, okay, I’ll open it.” Shortly thereafter I heard noises from the back room that sounded similar to loose change — then the robbers were gone.
I survived another robbery.
It was only later that I found out the shot was fired into the ceiling to scare the manager.
Tips for Surviving an Armed Robbery
On his website, ex-thief George Feder offers the following tips for safely surviving a robbery:
- Cooperate with the robber for your safety and the safety of others. Comply with the robbers demands.
- Remain calm and think clearly.
- If you have a silent alarm and can reach it without being noticed, use it. Otherwise wait until the robber leaves.
- Be careful, most robbers are not professionals and are as nervous as you are.
- Don’t talk except to answer the robber’s questions.
- Don’t stare directly at the robber.
- Prevent surprises; keep your hands in sight at all times.
- Don’t make any sudden moves.
- Don’t chase or follow the robber out of your business. Leave the job of catching the robber to the police.
With three exceptions, the actions of all of the armed robbery victims from both of my experiences helped ensure nobody got hurt.
In the first robbery, my store manager asked me to violate the last recommendation by trying to get the getaway car’s license plate number. And I inadvertently violated the first rule when I failed to get down on the ground after being told to do so. In the second robbery, the manager inexplicably decided to be uncooperative at first before finally coming to his senses.
Any one of those mistakes could have resulted in tragedy. Thankfully, they didn’t.
The good news is that, in both cases, nobody ever panicked. Nobody spoke to the robbers unless they were spoken too. And as far as I could tell, nobody tried to stare anybody down or made any sudden moves.
My Advice to You
As an armed robbery victim twice over, the best advice I can give you is to stay calm, don’t be hero, and try to be as compliant as you possibly can.
Keep in mind the odds are good you’ll come out of an armed robbery just fine if you can manage to keep your wits.
Remember, the money and personal belongings can be replaced. You can’t.
Photo Credit: Skley