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Archie Ingersoll, Published February 24 2014

What to do if you are robbed or witness a robbery

FARGO – The night of Oct. 27, 2011, Dianne Dunkirk parked in front of Royal Liquors just in time to see two armed robbers in ski masks rush out of the store. One of them paused in front of her car waving a long gun and occasionally pointing it at her.

Instead of panicking, 78-year-old Dunkirk took a big bite of her fast-food burger and sat chewing for a while before she stepped out of her car, with her reading glasses on the end of her nose, and walked straight toward the masked man.

“I really looked like a miserable, stupid old lady, and that’s the way I wanted to look,” she said. “I tried to look like I was sort of out of it. And I’ve been in a lot of community theater plays and that helped.”

As Dunkirk limped along with a bad knee, the man ran off and got into a getaway car.

While her method was unconventional, she committed to it. And although police officials may not condone her tactics, she escaped the encounter safely – something they say should be the top priority for customers who find themselves in the midst of a business robbery.

On Sunday evening, a convenience store was robbed in north Fargo, and less than 12 hours later, another convenience store was held up early Monday on the south side. The two cases raised this year’s total number of robberies to five in Fargo, putting the city on pace to exceed the past decade’s average of 11 robberies per year.

Since Jan. 1, there have been a total of seven robberies in the metro area.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said no customers were at the stores during the holdups Sunday and Monday, but the cases prompt the question of what a customer should do if they are at a business when a robber barges through the door.

Staying concealed

Vettel said that when faced with such a situation, customers should rely on their senses. Sometimes that means hiding in the store.

“We would always state that concealment is always the better part of staying safe,” he said.

In a confrontation with a robber, a customer should follow any orders – to a point. If someone orders you to go with them or tries to force you into a car, then you should fight back, the lieutenant said.

“If they’re doing something this brazen in a public place, what would they do when they got somebody into a private location?” he said.

Vettel theorized that robbers target businesses where there are few people. So far this year, customers have been present for at least two of the seven holdups in the area. On Jan. 7, two clerks and a customer were in the Mister Money store at 3051 25th St. S. in Fargo when two men, one wielding a silver pistol, robbed the business. On Jan. 14, a man and woman held up Casey’s General Store in Horace in front of a handful of patrons and employees.

Police say customers should try to be as observant as possible during a robbery. “Any bit of information they can provide prior to the event, during the event, after the event might be that missing piece of the puzzle that helps us solve that case,” Vettel said.

Dunkirk, a lifelong Fargo resident, was able to give police a description of the robbers and their getaway driver, a blond, preppy-looking guy behind the wheel of a shiny black sedan. Police eventually arrested one of the men, a 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to robbing Royal Liquors at 1606 Main Ave., along with a convenience store. He was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation.

No link established

The two most recent robberies in Fargo remain under investigation, and no arrests have been made. “It appears, at least at first blush, they are not connected,” Vettel said.

The first one happened about 5:15 p.m. Sunday at the Stop-N-Go at 3220 12th Ave. N. The robber, who did not show a weapon, ordered the clerk to the floor and took an undisclosed amount of cash and some merchandise before leaving, Sgt. Jim Van Lith said.

The clerk described the suspect as a white man about 40 years old with a thin build. He was wearing a green jacket and a black hat that obscured his face.

The second robbery happened about 1:20 a.m. Monday. Two men with handguns went into the Petro Serve USA at 2110 S. University Drive and demanded money from the clerk, Vettel said.

The robbers grabbed cash from the register and took the clerk to the back of the store where they robbed him of his wallet, Vettel said.

One of the gunmen had a red and black jacket, and the other wore a black jacket. Both were described as black men, and each had his face covered with what appeared to be a scarf.

Anyone with information about these robberies is asked to call the Fargo Police Department at (701)-235-4493.

Holdups this year in the F-M area

Jan. 3: Stop-N-Go at 524 Sheyenne St. in West Fargo

Jan. 7: Mister Money at 3051 25th St. S. in Fargo

Jan. 8: Petro Serve USA at 2921 Broadway in Fargo

Jan. 14: Casey's General Store at 112 Main St. in Horace

Jan. 29: Stop-N-Go at 1401 S. University Drive in Fargo

Feb. 23: Stop-N-Go at 3220 12th Ave. N. in Fargo

Feb. 24: Petro Serve USA at 2110 S. University Drive in Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734