Job fair attendee finds crime doesn't pay

This Just In...

February 07, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

A FRIEND told me this story. It involves his wife, a mugger, grand irony and maybe divine intervention - we don't know yet. You won't see any full names because the story was told with the condition that the victim, my friend's wife, not be identified. There's a definite fear factor here - police told my friend that the man arrested for robbing the love of his life once had served time for attempted murder.

So, for the purposes of this story, we'll just refer to the victim as Diana.

She went shopping on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 19, for snacks to take the next day - the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday - to a job fair at a Catholic school.

Nice person, this Diana.

She parked her car in front of her rowhouse in North Baltimore.

She stepped out into the frigid air and opened the car trunk. She had just started unloading groceries when she heard the man's voice.

"Don't make me do it!"

Diana looked up. The man was in his late 30s, wearing a brightly colored winter coat. "Don't make me do it!" he said again.

His hands were in the pockets of the coat, suggesting a handgun.

He wanted Diana's purse, and pulled one hand out of a pocket and helped her lift its strap off her shoulder and over her head. He started to walk away briskly, and Diana, remaining remarkably calm and thinking in an instant of not only the outrage of the crime - right in front of her own home - but of the annoying inconvenience it would create, managed to call to the hoodlum and ask:

"Can I have my cell phone?"

The man in the brightly colored winter coat turned and said, "No."

Then he was gone.

Diana went inside her house, called her husband and the police. Officers from the Northern District took a report and got a description of the mugger, and they were impressed with the amount of detail Diana provided.

Someone who had just been victimized in this way might not feel like helping her fellow man by volunteering the next day at a job fair for the chronically unemployed and underemployed. But Diana went. She worked the registration table at the fair, which was held in the gym of a city Catholic school.

More than 250 men and women came in during the day, met with representatives of 13 Baltimore and Baltimore County businesses, and had lunch. Among the men who approached Diana at the registration desk was ... the guy who had robbed her the night before.

Is this a small town, or what?

The man wore the same brightly colored winter coat, spoke in the same voice. Diana could not believe what she was seeing and hearing. She tried not to stare. She kept her cool. She got up calmly and called 911.

"When the police arrived, I secreted them off to a side room," says a school administrator who helped organize the job fair. "We strategized, and I agreed to go into the gym and bring [the suspect] out. I went in and found him, chatted with him. I got him out of the gym calmly by inviting him to come talk to a couple of `recruiters' who I said might be interested in giving him a job."

The school administrator escorted the suspect into a room where the police were waiting for him.

I'm told that, when police searched the suspect at the school, they found five ATM cards on him - all in the name of different people the suspect claimed were "cousins." The officers handcuffed the man, took him out a side door and brought him downtown.

The police told Diana and her husband that they suspected the man might have been involved in several other street robberies. They also found an attempted-murder conviction on his record, from 20 years ago. He has been charged with robbery and is scheduled for a court appearance this month.

One last irony - the guy apparently has a real job. If he was robbing, he was moonlighting. In fact, he kept telling police, "I don't know why I came [to the job fair]."

So divine intervention is suspected. "Yeah, we think so," says Diana's husband. "The saints are telling this guy it's time for him to straighten his life out."

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