A young teen is sharing his story of being held up at gunpoint outside his school in St. Albert as RCMP search for two suspects following a string of six robberies over the long weekend.
The boy, whose name and age are being withheld for safety reasons, was riding his bike with three friends near J.J. Nearing Catholic Elementary School Monday around 4 p.m. when two men approached the group. They pulled a gun on the foursome and threatened to start shooting unless they handed over their cellphones.
“Me and my friends were really scared and we had a lot of adrenaline rushing through us,” the boy said.
The two men grabbed their phones and ran to their car. The entire incident took about 40 seconds.
As the men took off, the foursome went to a nearby park where they found another parent and used her cellphone to call their parents.
The boy's mom, who the Gazette is not naming to protect the identity of her child, said she took her son to the police station to file a report. When they got there, she said she saw other parents with children who had also been victims of similar incidents that day. She has since taken to social media to warn other families.
"Nobody got hurt and I'm okay because of that," she said.
RCMP say they have received six reports of similar robberies since April 18. Four of them happened between Thursday and Saturday, while two reports came in Monday.
St. Albert RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Laurel Kading says the robberies that have taken place over the last several days are the top priority for the police right now.
The RCMP believe the incidents could be connected because the suspect descriptions and vehicles are similar in every police report filed by the youths.
Kading said nobody has been physically harmed in the incidents but the RCMP is warning parents and families to be vigilant and put extra safety measures in place.
Although it is a nice time of year and everybody wants to be outside, Kading said kids should be walking or riding their bikes with an adult and should travel in large numbers.
“If there is no need to actually go out right now, maybe just stay home for the next little bit until we can try to get a handle on the situation."
Kading is asking the public to report any suspicious behaviour or activity they may have seen over the weekend. The RCMP are working with their partners in the city, including the school divisions, to help keep an extra eye on students.
Kading is also asking parents to talk to their kids to help them understand these are real incidents occurring.
“Don’t resist. Don’t try to have some kind of plan of attack on the bad guy. This is real life we are talking about and we want everybody to come out safe,” Kading said.
Kading said parents should tell their kids to give over all the property the robbers want and co-operate with the person.
“Get home safe and then give the police a call,” Kading said.
The robbers targeted youths between the ages of 10 and 20.“These younger people, they’re old enough to be out with a little bit of freedom with their friends but apparently it seems like they’re being targeted and it’s worrisome,” the mother said.
The boy said he is “not doing too bad” and went to hang out with his friends after the incident.
“I feel different but I’m not acting any differently,” he said.
Robbery in Gordon Crescent
A second mom is speaking out as well to raise awareness after her 14-year-old son was robbed Saturday afternoon in Gordon Crescent while riding his bike with friends. She said a lone man cut the boys off and caught her son while the other boys split up. He pointed a gun at her son's friend and threatened to shoot, before making off with a cellphone and a wallet with no money in it.
The 14-year-old told his mom the robber seemed scared because he was shaking.
“Robbing in the broad daylight at three in the afternoon is unbelievable. Are they going to sit outside the schools when the kids get off at 3:00 tomorrow and hold up a child who is walking home alone?” she said.
Sense of safety gone
A third mom who spoke with the Gazette is shaken up after her son was also robbed at gunpoint.
The family emigrated from South Africa two and a half years ago to escape violence. The mom says their sense of safety has been taken away after what happened on the weekend.
“(We are) just so, so sad at the moment that our feeling of safety has been destroyed today,” she said.
Her 12-year-old son and his friend were walking home from Starbucks on the corner of St. Albert Trail and Giroux Road Monday afternoon when a man approached them and asked for all their valuables. While they weren't initially scared of him, he knocked the Starbucks drinks out of their hands and said his friend, who was hiding nearby with a gun, would shoot them if they didn't comply.
The friend popped out of the bushes holding a gun.
“He pulled the gun out halfway so nobody else can see except the two boys,” she said, adding the two boys only had one cellphone to turn over.
The incident unfolded in front of a busy road with cars travelling past, which the mom called "brazen."
The men told the two boys to turn around and walk away. The boys headed straight for the nearby 7-Eleven to call for help.
“The one thing that I kept telling myself is it's fine to live here and survive the cold because it’s so safe. And then I think yesterday reality just sank in that they are not safe anywhere,” the mom said.
She added the response from the RCMP and Victims Services has been amazing – a big difference from the family's experiences in South Africa.
“We are super impressed with that. They have been there to support the kids and they have been so awesome,” she said.
Other parents worried
Other parents in the community are worried about sending their kids outside with robbers on the loose.
One mom of two toddlers said she is terrified of going outside with them now.
“I’m quite nervous on a daily basis of taking my twins out. If I’m the only adult with my boys and if someone approaches us, I would be petrified because there’s one of me and I have my two boys with me. I can’t even wrap my head around it. So until the guys are caught, I will not be going out for walks, bike rides or to the parks,” Carla Miles-Carruthers said.
Another mom, who has a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old, said she would love to keep her kids inside until the robbers are caught but she knows she isn’t able to do so.
“Instead, my husband and I have decided to reiterate what to do if approached, which is to go to the closest business or if they are close to home, our home or a neighbour's. I have also asked them to keep all electronics, et cetera, out of view while outside,” Caitlin Stirling Fetherston said.
Two male suspectsIn a news release, the RCMP said the two incidents that took place Monday were potentially related to the four previous reported incident that unfolded over the weekend.
The two suspects produce what looks like a firearm and demand the victim’s cellphone, wallet or other property.
There has been no physical contact and the victims have not suffered from any injuries.
The first suspect has been described as Asian or Filipino, thin, in his mid-twenties and wearing a cross-body bag. The man may have facial hair and noticeable acne.
The second suspect is described as a black male with a short buzz cut.
The suspects have been using a vehicle that is described as a smaller, newer, silver four-door car, possibly a Ford Fusion. On April 20, they were also described as using a clean, newer, small white SUV.
All the victims were out walking or on bikes when they were approached and the suspects remained close to their vehicles.
St. Albert RCMP is asking residents to report any suspicious incidents to the RCMP by calling 780-458-7700 and are suggesting young people walk in groups, walk with an adult or stay home if possible. If confronted by a robber, co-operate with the demands, as personal safety is more important than loss of property.
The St. Albert RCMP is continuing an active investigation with assistance from the General Investigation Section. A composite drawing is being considered and may be released in the future.
If you have information about these incidents or suspects, please contact St. Albert RCMP at 780-458-7700 or contact your local police department. If you would like to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), online at p3tips.com, or with the P3 Tips app. Crime Stoppers does not collect information about your identity. A tip leading to an arrest may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000.