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Robberies Up in Mount Vernon

Police continue to apprehend suspects.

If good news travels fast, then bad news travels even faster. An email initiated by the sister of a victim of a recent robbery went round like wildfire the last couple of weeks. It related to an incident that happened Sunday, Sept. 4, when at approximately 9 p.m., a 33-year-old woman walked through a parking lot to her car in the parking lot of Target on Richmond Highway in the Alexandria area.

According to the police report: “She sat down in the driver’s seat and was approached by a man who brandished a firearm. The suspect demanded and took her purse before fleeing. The victim was not injured. The suspect is described as black, approximately 25 years old, 6 feet tall and weighed about 180 pounds. He was last seen wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans.”

The woman’s sister and mother came to get the woman and her sister sent out the following email to her friends:

“Hello Everyone,

“I just wanted to contact all the women friends I have in the nearby vicinity to remind you to use caution when going to shopping centers (or gas stations or anywhere else for that matter) at night.

“My sister was robbed at gunpoint Sunday night (the gun was held to her head) at the Target on Route 1. She's OK physically, but mentally she's a mess (as am I and my mother for that matter since we went to pick her up and help give the police information — she was too hysterical). I use that Target frequently and was unaware that they apparently have a high crime rate in the parking lot (i.e., the woman police officer taking prints off of my sister's car said that she tells all of her friends and told her mother not to go shopping there at all).

“Anyway, I know we all can take safety for granted sometimes (including myself), so this is just a reminder to use caution when out at night.

“Park where there are lots of people and where there is good lighting. If you have a 'panic' button on your car remote, know where it is and how to use it. (My sister had just gotten her car a few months ago and didn't yet know how to work the panic feature.) Also, maintain awareness of your surroundings and any people nearby you to assess the risk of going to your car alone. Also, if you feel tense about leaving a store alone, don't hesitate to ask a security guard to escort you.

“OK, I'm off my soapbox now. I just had to do my civic duty and warn others. Please warn your other friends in the area as well to be careful at night. I'm just glad my sister is still alive — I can't imagine having someone hold a gun to my head, but every time I do, I get really upset.”

THE VICTIM’S SISTER also said, “The management at that Target store never bothered to attempt any contact with her sister whatsoever after the crime to see if she was OK or to apologize in any way that the crime occurred in their parking lot (in an area that wasn't well lit in the first place).

“When my mother stopped by the following day to discuss the incident with the manager on duty, the only comment she got was ‘we're aware of the incident and we've told our employees not to go to their cars alone anymore.’ That's it — nothing at all in the line of 'we're sorry for what happened to your daughter’ or ‘we're taking steps to improve security at our store.’ They appear not to care in the least about the safety of their customers.”

When asked for a comment, Aimee Sands, Target Media Relations, said, “Target’s first priority is always the safety of its guests and team members. It is our goal to provide a safe shopping environment for our communities, and we take necessary actions to ensure that we maintain that safe environment at all times.

“We are working closely with law enforcement and hope for a swift resolution to this situation.”

The woman who was attacked said that she had come out of Target around 9 p.m. and was headed to her car when she heard running. Before she had time to lock her door or hit the ‘panic’ button, a man was asking for her purse. Without thinking, she handed it over to him but then started to think about what was in it. She was concerned that her medication might be in there so she asked if she could check. Surprisingly, he let her check, but when she tried to grab her cell phone, the man put a gun to her head and told her to put it back. He then grabbed the purse, threw her keys in front of the car and took off.

She figures that they threw the keys to give them time to escape. It also caused her to focus on retrieving her keys and not looking at them.

“I couldn’t even begin to identify them,” said the victim, who only realized after the police told her that there were two suspects, not just one. “I can describe the gun, but not the guys.”

After the men left, she grabbed her keys and drove around to the front of the store. Two women were headed to that same parking lot and she told them not to. When the two women realized what had happened, they called 911.

“The police responded immediately,” said the victim. “In less than 5-10 minutes, they had a helicopter and a dog. They were on the ball — the dog picked up a scent but lost it in the nearby apartments. They also pulled prints off the car.”

At this point, she doesn’t see any sense stressing about the incident and is trying to move on, but said, “I felt let down. As a person who spends hundreds of dollars at Target, I feel that they can do more. I don’t expect them to apologize, but I do expect them to make it better for their customers. Target needs to research and invest in hiring security to patrol the parking lots of the Target shopping center, something that Wal-Mart does currently, and has done for quite some time. My sister sent out an email trying to make everyone aware; my response to those who emailed me back was to show support by requesting security patrols in the Target parking lots.”

The victim is also upset at the way the local newspapers have reported this incident. At no point was the parking lot at Target mentioned, but only that the incident took place in “a parking lot in the 6600 block of Richmond Highway.”

“I don’t feel that that is very helpful in making the public more aware,” she said.

CAPT. MIKE KLINE, commander, Mount Vernon District Station, said that he spoke to the FCPD PIO and they stated their practice is to mention the name of the store only if the store itself is robbed. However, nothing prohibits them from saying the parking lot of Target and he had no problem saying where the robbery took place.

The victim did say that she did everything “wrong.” She was alone at night and parked on the side of the store. Her hands were full and she was unaware of her surroundings. When she heard the running, she panicked. She just wants to prevent this from happening to other people. MPO Greg Kottemann, crime prevention officer, has been asked to prepare a list of safety tips for publication.

When a copy of the email was forwarded to Kline for his comment and reaction, he said, “People need to understand that this is no different than Tysons Corner where they have had several incidents. Our neighborhood is more urban than others and we have pockets of urbanized-type crimes.”

He checked the records and they had no other reports of crime in the Target parking lot. There was a robbery on Sept. 3 in the 3100 block of Southgate Drive — these are Beacon Hill Apartments which does back up to the Target. At this point based on descriptions, Kline said that he is not sure the Target parking lot robbery and the Southgate Drive robbery are related.

LAST MONTH, HOWEVER, a woman was robbed exiting the Huntington Metro station, two clerks at the Domino’s Pizza located at 6228 Richmond Highway were robbed and a teenager was attacked and robbed in Saratoga area.

Two different incidents occurred in the Engleside Area the week of Sept. 10; both involved men who were assaulted and robbed by suspects with knives.

Two weeks ago, a man was assaulted and robbed in the Huntington area and a store clerk was robbed at the Huntington Market, located at 5834 North Kings Highway.

Kline said that Crime Analyst Amisha Amin has determined separate trends in both the Jefferson Manor/Huntington Area robberies and the Engleside/Woodlawn/Sacramento areas.

He also said that they have made arrests in two robberies not part of these trends in the last week. They also have some suspects in some of the recent robberies but we are not at a point where we can make arrests.

This week, Kline received a report from one of the detectives investigating three commercial robberies in the South Kings/North Kings Highway area. He is looking for information for the robberies that occurred over a 15-day period staring on Sept. 15 and the last one was on Sept. 29. The police have distributed a poster with a picture of the suspects from the last robbery. If anyone has any information they would like them to call the police.

AT LAST MONTH’S Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Kline spoke about the crime rate. Whereas the number of robberies for Jan.-June, 2005, was down by 20 percent compared to Jan.-June, 2004, it went back up in July and August with 31 robberies from late June to early August. Kline said that this gave them 80 incidents YTD compared to 75 during the same period last year.

He explained, however, that seven of them happened in a 12-hour timeframe and that they have arrested seven to eight people for most of these robberies.

“We’re doing a good job of apprehending them,” Kline said. “There are other ways to combat this and we are asking for additional resources.”

Kline went on to say that the victims and crimes seem to take place in the same neighborhood with young Latino men taking advantage of the older Latino men in their same neighborhood.

On another note, Kline said that the number of gang incidents is down. “The gangs are still around, but we’re actively hounding them,” he said.