Location: Roseville, California
Date: April 18, 1992
A little after midnight, on April 18, 1992, nightshift employees of the Bel Air supermarket in Roseville, California, were closing the store and balancing their cash registers before going home. The automatic electronic doors had been turned off but had not yet been locked.
Employees Chad Graham and Pat Maldonado said good night to their coworkers as they were leaving the store. Seconds later, four masked armed men forced their way through the electronic doors and ordered employees to lay facedown on the floor.
Chad caught a glimpse of the gunmen as he was exiting. He ran to a pay phone at the front of the store and dialed 911. "There's a holdup in Bel Air on Sunrise and Cirby! Quick!" he told the dispatcher. It was dispatcher Pamela Hardwick's first robber call in four years of service. She was nervous as she dispatched police to the scene, because she knew anything could happen.
Inside, terrified employees was neither moving nor obeying the gunmen's orders. Head clerk Ken Pickard got down on the floor and yelled for his employees to follow. While one of the gunmen guarded the employees, the other three ran to the customer service office. A gunman pounded on the office window with his gun, demanding to be let in. Employee Tracy Engleston, who had been hiding under a desk, came out and let the men in.
Stephanie Soulier lay on the floor and heard Tracy scream as the men rushed in and ordered her to open the two safes. "I was so scared when I heard Tracy scream," said Stephanie. "She's like my little sister. It was as if somebody in my family was going to get hurt."
Meanwhile, Chad stayed on the phone, updating Hardwick as best he could about the gunmen's movements. He was afraid that the driver in the getaway car in the parking lot would see him. "I'm in front of the store," Chad told Hardwick, "and I don't want them to see me. Oh God."
Within forty seconds of being dispatched, police units arrived on the scene with their lights off. Chad got off the phone with Hardwick and stood by as Watch Commander Rocky Rockholm instructed officers to surround the building. "I was scared to death," said Rockholm, who had been the supervisor of the night shift for only four nights. "I thought of all the things that could go wrong, I said a little prayer to myself."
Inside the customer service office, gunmen took the cash from the top safe and demanded that Tracy unlock the bottom one. She told the gunmen that only Ken Pickard had the combination, so they ordered Ken into the office to open the safe. Ken told the men there were only coins inside, but the robbers were determined. Ken stalled with the combination, but he finally opened the safe, which held stacks of rolled coins and a little cash.
Angered by their small take, the gunmen ordered Ken to lay on the floor. One of the men cocked his gun, put it to Ken's head, and ordered him to count to ten. Ken slowly counted out loud, waiting to be shot. Instead, the men fled.
The suspects ran out of the store directly into the path of two police officers, who shouted, "Police! Freeze!" Officers immediately apprehended two of the gunmen, but two fled on foot. A pursuing officer caught one of the suspects in a nearby field. Chad saw the fourth suspect running away and yelled to police. A police dog was released and tackled the man to the ground.
Rockholm credits good police work to the fact that nobody was hurt and the suspects were captured. Chad feels lucky that his exit was perfectly timed. Had he left a moment sooner, he wouldn't have seen the gunmen. Had it been a moment later, he would have been trapped with the other employees in the store. The four suspects pleaded guilty to armed robbery; three of them were adults sentenced to jail, the fourth was a juvenile sentenced to a state youth facility.
Store employees were shaken by the robbery, but they returned to work the next night with tighter security. Ken is happy he survived to see the birth of his daughter, Kelsey, two months later. "When you look in her eyes, it just tears your heart out that you might have missed something like that," said Ken. "I'm happy that I'm alive to see my little girl."