Police investigating series of armed robberies in St. Paul
A St. Paul woman isn't mincing words about a harrowing robbery attack Sunday evening that left her and her sister frightened and concerned.
"We probably were in a little bit of shock," she says. "It just hit us, and we cried and hugged each other."
The two women, both in their 60s, were walking in the intersection of Holly Avenue and MacKuban Street, in the city's Summit-University neighborhood, around 7:30 PM.
Suddenly, they found themselves confronted by two men, trying to grab at their purses.
"I heard her scream, and saw a young man," the woman recalls. "My sister, on the ground, the young man standing over her, yanking at her purse. My sister was screaming so loud, and constantly yelling 'help, call 911.'"
She doesn't want her name made public, but says the suspects got away with her sister's purse.
The man who confronted her, she says, was startled, slipped on some ice, and ran off to a waiting car.
"It was a jump and run," says Aaron Forsman, a neighbor. "Basically, they were minding their own business, just going from one place to another."
The two sisters are not the only victims — investigators are looking into five street robberies that occurred within a three hour period Sunday.
"Where you have a gunman, when you have one or two accomplices with him," says Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul Police Department spokesperson. "The gunman tends to be about 18 to 22 years old, and the accomplices tend to be younger, victims describing them as being 14 years old."
Authorities say the crime spree began around 6:30 PM, when two men, one of them armed, robbed a man of his cash and car keys, outside his Barclay Street apartment building. A police report says the victim chased the two men away before they could steal his car.
"It's certainly scary, but reminds you that you live in a city where there's certainly crime and you always have to be careful," says Sean Boley, who's lived in the Summit-University area for about three years.
"For sure, more alert. Shocking nonetheless, absolutely," he adds.
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Police say people in at least three other locations were also victimized, in what are considered random, non-targeted robberies.
- A half-hour after the Barclay robbery, a woman getting out of her car on Timberlake Road was purse-snatched by two men approaching from behind, one pointing a handgun.
- Ten minutes later, a woman and her mother were surrounded by three men, one of whom pointed a gun, and demanded their purses and PIN numbers for their credit cards.
- At around 9:10 PM, a married couple entering their building's entryway on Western Avenue were confronted by an armed man who took the woman's purse and fled.
For some St. Paul residents, these incidents are sadly, all too familiar territory.
Dog walker Jenny Louismet tells 5 Eyewitness News that a friend's father was recently held up at knifepoint in the parking lot of a well-known St. Paul bar and grill.
"Some guys just came out of the parking lot, but unfortunately got away with his wallet," she remembered. "Just don't forget you're in a city, really. Stay vigilant. Check your surroundings."
These latest robberies are similar to a series of incidents last December, including a case where several suspects snatched a woman's purse outside Hmong Village Shopping Center, then dragged her from a car.
Police are investigating to see if any or all of these cases are connected.
They're also searching for surveillance video, and asking anyone with information, to contact them.
"In all these situations, the victims did not see the robbery coming," Ernster says. "They were suddenly startled by somebody pointing a gun at them, and demand their valuables."
Authorities are urging women to avoid carrying purses in plain sight — and to stay alert about their surroundings.
The woman victimized by the Holly Street robbery says she and her sister were shaken up, but unhurt.
She agrees, after everything that's happened, that watchfulness can help keep potential victims safe.
"I don't think I had time to be afraid until after the perpetrators fled," she says quietly. "If you're just walking, and don't need your purse, do not carry anything, do not have anything with you. This is a crime of opportunity."
Anyone with information that could help police in their investigation is asked to contact the department at 651-266-5650.