At Gunpoint

gun handgunGetting robbed is at the top of every bank teller’s worst fears list. Financial institution employees go through extensive training. At my former workplace, a credit union, the Austin Police Department conducted a mandatory annual robbery training in which we would view and handle various type of firearms and even take part in mock robberies.

But even though bank and credit union employees are always aware of the threat of robbery, it gets pushed into the back of your mind in dealing with the hustle and bustle of each day: the cash orders; the schedule; the people coming through the doors making deposits, taking out loans, or opening new accounts. At the end of the day, it’s just work, and the idea of getting robbed just kind of goes away.

Until it happens.

 

It was December 2002.

As I stood alone in the lunchroom heating up my leftovers, the break room phone rang. It was one of my fellow employees.

“Is Sarah* back there?”

She wasn’t. Maybe the bathroom, I suggested. I ended the call, sat down with my lunch, and started to dial Christian at work.

Sarah popped her head into the lunchroom, which was located right behind the teller line.

“Hey, Carla is lookin–”

“Hang up the phone, and call 911.” She quickly interrupted me.

Um, okay.

I dialed 911. “What’s your emergency?”

“I don’t really know…my supervisor just told me to call.” I gave her the business name and address, not sure what she was going to do. Did someone have a heart attack? Were we getting robbed? Was 8 month pregnant Sarah going into labor? I had no idea, but I sure wasn’t going to stick my head out that door. I wasn’t going to get stuck with lamaze duty if it was the latter.

A few minutes later, the lunchroom phone rang again. It was Sarah, requesting my assistance on the teller line.

Still not sure if anything was really going on, I made my way up to here. She stood at the computer that worked in accordance with our cash dispenser. She showed me the amount she attempting to dispense, and asked me to enter my password. Even though she was my boss, each person had a limit of cash they could dispense before requiring a password of another supervisor.

I stared at the number she had entered. $100,000.

I entered my password and the machine started whirring. 100 dollar bills popped up in stacks of 25. As Sarah stood at the machine and grabbed each bundle, I surveyed the quiet room.

It was practically empty. We were a small and very slow branch of the credit union. I could hear a member in an office with another employee, possibly applying for a loan. Two tellers sat lazily at their stations, waiting for someone, anyone to come through the door and give them something to do. Carla stood at the desk where members filled out their deposit slips, and next to her, casually leaning against the desk, stood a man in a jacket and baseball cap. Was it black? Mustard colored? Funny how the details escape me now.

What’s going on? I thought. Are we being robbed?

The elevator style Muzak played over the speakers. A composed Carla turned to quietly say something to the man. I still wasn’t sure. This wasn’t the way it ever played out in movies, or even in our training seminars. It was just too…calm.

Suddenly the cash machine started its incessant whirring indicating that it was out of money. Naturally, since our branch didn’t readily keep 100 grand on hand at any one time.

The man quickly grew impatient. Before any of us knew what was happening, he jumped up to the teller counter and opened a small black case.

Inside the case also sat a real, live gun.

He ordered Sarah to put the money she was holding into the case.

“Put it in there! Just put in in there!”

Sarah threw the money into the case, retracting her hands quickly, as if the gun was a snake about to strike.

It was that moment that our guard decided to make her move.

Let me digress a bit and tell you about the guard. Credit unions and some high profile banks are staffed with guards. Some are great, some not so much. Our guard was in the not so much category. She was short, fat, past middle age, and was missing about half of her teeth. Now having all of your teeth is not exactly a prerequisite when getting hired as a guard (seeing as she was not our first, nor our last who failed to impress in the dental department), but it does kind of affect your credibility in any realm of employment really. Am I wrong?

So the toothless wonder decided that since the robber’s attention was diverted for a moment, she was going to take him down.

What happened next is kind of a blur.

She started towards the robber, her hand on her holster, ready to draw.

He sensed her moving towards him, drew his own gun, and pointed it at her.

“Stay back! Stay the {bleep!} back!”

We all stared, wide eyed. Was this really happening?

Suddenly they were at each other, both of them with arms outstretched, guns drawn, and each struggling to get the weapon away from their counterpart.

We remained entranced, as if watching a movie.

“GET DOWN! EVERYBODY GET DOWN!” Sarah’s shrill voice snapped us all back into reality and we threw ourselves under the counter. I huddled close next to one of the tellers, listening to the skirmish. Only a couple of pieces of drywall separated us from the danger on the other side of the half wall.

After what seemed like an eternity, the scuffle ended and we heard the door slam open and the man flee the building.

Sarah hesitantly popped her head up over the counter to ensure he was gone.

“Is everyone okay?” The teller and I looked at each other, our hands clasped tightly to one another, and let out sighs of exasperated relief.

He was gone.

 

The rule of thumb for robberies is to get ’em out the door. Don’t try to play dumb, don’t try to pull one over on them, and don’t try to be a hero. It’s not your money. But it is your life.

The man who robbed us was caught several years later after he robbed another institution in Louisiana and admitted to robbing us as well.

 

*Names of my former coworkers have been changed.

This post is linked up with MamaKat, who asked us to elaborate on one of our 22 things from last week.

 

Mama’s Losin’ It

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30 Comments

  1. That is so so scary! Even though we are trained for it we never think it will happen. I’m so glad everyone was okay, though I completely understand the fear that stays with you.

    Being trained on getting them out the door first and not caring about the money is I think what helped a bit.

    1. That’s exactly right, Kimberly. You almost forget that it’s a threat. I don’t know why someone would try to stop the robber or try to trick them.

  2. My heart is in my throat. I have never wanted to work in a bank, but always thought if I did and got robbed I would throw every bit of money I could get my hands on at the robber and maybe even my lunch if they wanted it.
    I used to work in a hospital and our “security guards” sound a lot like yours….except they did not carry weapons of any kind. Unless you count a huge keyring.
    They’re a joke.

  3. I’m so glad that you’re okay and that you didn’t try to take the gunman out with your sharp ninja skills.
    No matter how sharp they are, you still remembered that your life was more important that impressing your co-workers and blowing your ninja cover.

    I’m seriously glad that you were ok.
    That’s scary.

  4. Just proof the toothless wonders don’t always make great decisions…I would think she was taught the rule of thumb but maybe forgot it? That moment after he leaves and you make sure it’s really over – whew! Thanks for sharing this experience.

    1. I think she just really thought she could take him. What a nut. Afterwards she kept saying, “I bet his gun wasn’t loaded,” and we were all “Um, I’d rather not gamble on that!!!!” Always assume it’s loaded.

  5. Wow, that sound pretty scary. I’ll bet it was kind of surreal when it happened. You are so brave. I was in a holdup one time at the bank. Three hooded guys came in and two pointed guns at those of us in line while one jumped over the teller counter. We all just stood there no knowing what to do, it is kind of like “Is this really happening?”. Someone tried to come into the bank and one of the guys just pushed them out and slammed the door. There were glass picture windows onto the front main street and the people outside could see what was happening so for the life of me I don’t know why anyone would want to come in. Anyway, when they had all the money they could get the one behind the counter let the other two into the back and they all ran out the back door. It was pretty scary but over so fast. For the longest time I was very nervous in a closed in room. You just never know. I’m so glad nothing happened to you.

  6. That idiot is lucky none of you were killed. NEVER try to play hero when someone has a gun! Geesh.
    I’m glad you were all okay that that he was finally caught!

    1. Me too! You’re right — we were ALL lucky that no one was hurt. One of those weapons could have gone off very easily.

  7. That is crazy! I can’t believe this happened to both you and Kim. What a scary situation. So glad you and the co-workers were all ok.

    1. Funny, huh? We left almost identical comments on each other’s blogs at the same time when we made out lists. 🙂

  8. Wow. I can’t imagine being in a position w/that much potential for robbery (although, I admit anywhere nowadays has the potential for robbery or workplace violence, huh?). I’m glad you made it through ok.

    1. Oddly enough, you just forget about it. We saw so many of the same people all the time and knew most of them by name. At the end of the day, it’s just a job and you forget the potential dangers!

  9. I am glad to say I’ve never been threatened at gun point. My sister used to be a bank teller and like you said, this was always something she was afraid of. That’s amazing how calm all of you were! Just wondering if the police ever responded to your 911 call.

    1. I don’t think they responded to my original one, oddly enough, but we did hit the alarm and call again once he was out of the building. In fact I think an employee in nearby closed off room may have called too. I thought it was strange that no one replied to the first one, since in later years we had plenty of cops call or come by because we had accidentally tripped an alarm. And sorry for my late reply. I fished you out of spam!

  10. Holy cow. You had me giggling over the teeth bit though. I totally agree with you. Bad teeth ruin your credibility no matter what the job. Unless it’s Waffle House.

    1. Hahahaha! Unfortunately, it also made us look bad as a business. They’re supposed to be more of a deterrent than an actual protector.

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