Grace Under Fire
For one jeweler, remaining calm may have saved lives
For Marshall Varon of Morgans Jewelers, Rolling Hills Estates, CA, his wife and four of his employees, Saturday, July 15, had been a routine day. Then, about 5:15 p.m., two men entered the store posing as police investigators and asked for help identifying stolen merchandise.
After Varon questioned their identification, one showed a gun. What do you want? Varon asked.
I want your jewelry.
Is this a holdup?
That exchange began an 18-hour nightmare that ended with the hostages safe and the robbers in jail. A major factor in the non-violent finish was Varons ability to remain calm and collected.
Varon told the intruders he didnt want anyone hurt, and they agreed to let customers leave. The employees were herded into a back room, forced to lie face-down and handcuffed.
The robbers filled two bags with jewelry and tried to leave. But as one opened the back door, he saw a sea of police, slammed the door, turned to Varon and angrily demanded to know how the police had been notified. Varon calmly replied it could have been a passerby or a customer who left, but he assured him it was no one in the store.
What began as a robbery became a hostage situation. One employee said the handcuffs were so tight they cut into his wrists. The robbers had no key, so Varon directed the robbers to handcuffs he had in his desk. The key to that set worked and the handcuffs were removed. The robbers wanted sandwiches and cigarettes; the police traded them for a hostage. Later, Varon convinced the robbers to allow two more employees to leave. Throughout the ordeal, he talked with the robbers, told them he didnt want them to get hurt and tried to keep them calm.
By now the robbers realized there was no way out 300 police and SWAT team members surrounded the building and they began negotiating. Varon eventually convinced the robbers to give up, unload their guns and place them on his desk.
After 18 hours, all five Varon, two staff members and the robbers walked out of the store. They whisked the hostages by the line of police, put us in a van and drove us to an area where our families were waiting, Varon says. The robbers were handcuffed and taken away.
Varon advises jewelers in similar situations to remain calm. Whatever happens, its not worth a life, he says. Dont do anything to put robbers under stress. Make them feel comfortable, and make them promise they wont hurt you or others. Let them get in and out as quickly as possible.
|What Would You Do?
Youve probably rehearsed in your mind what to do in the event of a robbery. But what if it turns into a hostage situation?
Its difficult to formulate a set of general rules, says John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers Security Alliance, New York City. Every situation is different; for example, the robbers may be calm or agitated, or there may be 100 police or none outside. When police show up, the the robbers handle it differently.
Should you try to escape? Should you get friendly? Should you take the initiative in talking or respond only when spoken to? It depends on the circumstances, Kennedy says, adding that common sense should dictate your actions.
Follow these rules to lessen the chance of hostage-taking:
Dont keep a gun on the premises.
Give the robbers what they want. The faster they leave the store, the less chance of the robbery escalating into a hostage crisis.