Note: This traumatic situation happened in the 90s, something I’ll never forget.
Ever think you’d wake up to face another day and everything go according to plan? Remain normal? Nothing out of the ordinary? Yeah, me too. But this would be no ordinary work day for me …
Several months of working the drive-thru window at my new banking job, I looked forward to working the inside lobby. I retrieved my cash box and set up my drawer like any other day, with the exception of being stationed alongside manager and friend, Judy, with her fifteen years of experience in the industry. Once all bank tellers were set with their consignment items, our security guard Victor, unlocked the front doors and opened for business. Because it was the beginning of the week, I felt confident the day would go fairly smooth.
After assisting a couple of customers with their transactions, I became startled by a commotion to my far left. I glanced toward that direction in time to see a masked man shove Victor against the counter, snatching his gun out of his holster. Like a surreal scene right out of a horror flick, the masked man shoved the gun against Victor’s spine, ordering him not to move or to turn around. Before realization hit me, another gunman shot by from the opposite direction with a stocking over his face, shouting obscenities and threatening that he would “pop” anyone who moved!
Another hooded gunman appeared, waving his rifle, shoving customers and employees along the wall, yelling at them to drop down and not move. Staring in disbelief and in shock, as if frozen in time, we tellers behind the counters, were still standing with hands in the air. As thoughts reeled in my brain, I hardly noticed that my hand was slowly etching out attempting to set off a silent alarm hidden under the counter inches from me. Out of no where, one of the gunmen jumped on top of my station, glaring with his gun pointed at me and growls, “You! Down, now. Or I’ll pop you!”
I was going to faint on the spot at best, or be shot to smithereens at worst. Thank the good Lord, I still had some control of my faculties and complied, dropping to my knees with my head down, all the while praying. Judy was not so lucky.
The gunman began ordering her to climb over the counter to go into the vault with him. One of the other gunmen already held Victor and the commercial teller with his gun pointed in their faces while they waited to go inside the vault once it was unlocked. The gunman became impatient with Judy and proceeded to pull on her arm attempting to drag her up and over the counter. As she struggled to raise her leg to climb, she stumbled back and was immediately pistol whipped after he jumped down, cursing her for moving too slow. He proceeded to push her towards the vault with the others. (Yes, my head was up and I was peeking.) Once the vault was unlocked, one could only imagined what was taking place inside.
One of the gunmen stood by the front door, holding everyone at bay spewing profanities and waving his gun back and forth. After what seemed like an eternity, the two gunmen ran out from the vault, throwing money bags at their partner by the exit. They ordered everyone to remain down as they scurried out the front door. After the ruckus, we began to stir and rise from our positions. Peering out of the windows we noticed the police were already on the scene (an alarm had indeed gone off), and they were in hot pursuit of the bank robbers who apparently had jumped into a getaway car. Instantly, I thought of Judy and the rest who had gone into the vault. They were still inside! Were they hurt? Still alive? I shuddered to think.
As I quickly approached the vault, I heard sobbing and my heart dropped! All three employees were lying face down. But the sight of Judy faced down with blood glistering from a gash on her forehead stunned me. A sob escaped me as I called her name. I was relieved to discover that in calling out, they all responded by sitting up and were simply waiting for one of us from the outside to come and get them. Upon examining Judy’s head, we knew her outer wounds would heal. But one never knows about the turmoil that goes on inside.
We hugged one another and let the tears flow freely.
After the police interviewed everyone, we were allowed to call family members to come for us. When Mark came for me, I was still trembling and immediately crumbled in the safety of his arms. I couldn’t wait to leave, go home and hug my kids.
Recovery from trauma is a process. Most of us were shaken up for quite some time after that ordeal and needed counseling. Some even quit their banking jobs to look elsewhere for employment. As for me, that moment in time would forever be etched in my memory. I myself experienced what is called a trauma-related symptom in the aftermath of that bank robbery.
Days after the incident, while on lunch break at a fast-food chicken joint, an outraged customer began verbally attacking one of the employees over his incorrect order. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my nerves felt like pins and needles. I left my food and made a hasty exit and got the heck out of dodge.
Reflecting back, one thing became perfectly clear: You can be “busy as usual” with the mundane things in life and at a moment’s notice, your world can turn upside down and you are faced with a life and death situation!
Life is precious not to be taken for granted.
© M.A. Pérez 2014, All Rights Reserved
Your turn. Have you had a traumatic experience or a close call when you least expected it?