The salient points: I didn’t panic when he snatched my purse, although I did sit there for a nanosecond, stunned with disbelief.
If I put myself in his shoes, I imagine his desperation when he sized me up, a little too quickly as it turns out: a gray haired woman engrossed in a computer screen in the 24/7 computer lab of ASU’s Student Union Building, her small blue jean purse set conveniently on the counter to her left. Never mind that it was the middle of the afternoon with plenty of people around.
As I replay the scene in all its exquisite and horrifying detail, I can see now that he must have approached on my blind side, my right, where I wouldn’t have been able to detect him in my periphery, because the image I have of him is his backside running through the door of the computer lab, skinny in blue jeans and cloaked in a hoody, my little purse clutched in his hand like a soft and lumpy football. This image is burned deep like the retinal afterimage that results from looking too long at a total eclipse of the sun.
Thank God I didn’t get lost in that nanosecond of disbelief, because next thing I knew, I was up from my chair and running after him. I think I was yelling something profound like “Hey, you stole my purse!”
Once outside, I kept running and yelling. I must have been pretty clear and coherent in the yelling because several people did what I was pleading for them to do: they ran or bicycled after the thief to apprehend them. It was the quintessential moment of good Samaritans responding to a request to “STOP THAT MAN!”
The next important point is that serendipity is everything. Just as the thief and I emerged from the south doors of the computer lab, a cop in a squad car was rounding the corner of First and Edgemont. He must have sized up the situation in another precious nanosecond because he fired up his lights and gunned in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, already out of breath, I was fumbling with my cell-phone to dial 911.
A woman, a fellow ASU employee coming out of the library, approached me while I was trying to catch my breath and asked if I was okay and could she help. Yes, I’d left the computer running on my log in, and my coat was still on the back of the chair with my car keys in it. “No problem,” she said, “I’ll take care of it.”
A young man driving by must have heard my cries because he stopped his car and jumped out barefoot to chase the thief, who by this time had galloped over busy First Street into the hospital parking lot. I don’t remember crossing First Street (which is a scary thought in and of itself) but when I did, the thief had reversed directions and was now running toward me, but the officer in the squad car following him caught him. The young barefoot man handed my purse back to me, everything intact. Later, when we were both writing our statements for the police, I learned his name and shook his hand in gratitude. Thank you for being a Good Samaritan, Cody Kennedy.
Meanwhile, the campus and town police blazed onto the scene, lights flashing. There must have been at least four squad cars and seven or eight officers. They were kind, considerate, and thorough, and it didn’t seem to me that they were unnecessarily rough with the thief. I remember thinking in my befuddled state, how can such efficiency coexist at the same time that numerous examples of extreme police ineptitude, and worse, extreme overreaction exist? I can only count my lucky stars.
But what of my thief? While he was being spread-eagled against the squad car, frisked and cuffed, he had hung his head low, his lank, dark hair shrouding his face. I never did see his face. But there was a young woman accompanying the Good Sam, and, when she approached and called the thief’s name (which I can’t remember), she asked “What were you thinking?” He replied, “I needed money for drugs for my kid.” At least that’s what I thought I heard.
We probably know the real story. After the squad car took my thief away, I could hear over the police radio that he was puking in the hospital. The officers were speculating that he was already sick with withdrawal. They were sure he wasn’t an ASU student. “You get a feel for knowing these things,” they said.
Here’s the last thing I want to say. It’s amazing to me that a certain clarity of mind and vision can result from an incident like this. It’s uncanny, that something so scary and repugnant and disturbing can also be so awakening. Maybe it’s the warrior woman in me; she may be mellowing with age, but she can still rise to the occasion, assess the situation pretty damn well, run like hell (albeit quite briefly) and yell succinct and clear orders.
Thank you, powers that be.
And thank you Good Sams of the world.