The Robbery

Recently I drove down to Tombstone, Arizona to work at a vaccine clinic for the day.  Tombstone is the location of the historic shootout at the O.K. Corral, which occurred in 1881 and is the most famous gunfight of the historic southwest.  It’s a tourist location and actually is quite interesting.   The drive to Tombstone is about 4 hours from Phoenix and generally is quite pleasant.  When I was driving to work at the vaccine clinic and I had  made it about halfway there I suddenly remembered what I would see along the way.  Ug.  Along the drive there is a billboard which advertises the city and tells you where to exit.  It has a person, probably supposed to be Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, posing and pointing a gun directly forward.  

I hate that billboard.  I’ve passed it several times and it always gives me the creeps.  It always reminds me of the day I had a gun pointed at me.  It elicits many bad memories from a night where I was robbed at gunpoint.  

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The incident of which I write occurred in 2007, and it occurred at an animal hospital in Phoenix, where I worked as an overnight emergency veterinarian.  On November 19, 2007, at 1:45am a single gun-man robbed the hospital and held 5 employees hostage at gunpoint for about 40 minutes before they all were able to escape the building.  I was one of those employees.  

It’s funny how this has affected me over the past 6+ years.  It has had a large impact on my life.  It was a big deal.  Every year that passes since the event I feel more alone in my experience.  It seems that everyone else has forgotten about it.  I also get the feeling that everyone else assumes that it’s not something to be concerned with anymore.  I will admit that although the stresses and trauma from that night have lessened over time, that it is something that I will never forget.  It is something that I will never be truly “over.”  

Initially I kept in good touch with the other hostages from the incident of that night.  However now, I have all but lost touch with them.  They are the only people who I feel have a true understanding for what happened that night.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have anyone to talk to when I remember that night.  On every anniversary of the robbery, and every time I get reminded of the event I feel sad.  And grateful.  I’m sad because of what occurred, sad for the terror we all had to endure, and sad because for many terrifying moments I thought that I was going to die and I desperately did not want to.  But I also am grateful.  I’m grateful that all of us survived, and grateful that I have been given the chance to live my life.  I think about all that I have done in the past six years and it has been wonderful.  I have enjoyed these years, and I am glad I have had the chance to do that.  

A few months ago, on the sixth anniversary of the robbery, I was hiking “the narrows” in Zion National Park.  As I hiked, I remembered that night and realized it had been six years since I had a brush with death.  On that day as I hiked in the beautiful location I felt so happy and alive.   I was so glad that I got the chance to do it.  I am so grateful that my life did not end that night in 2007.  One of the lessons and goals I have had after the event was to live my life as though it is a second chance, to live as though I embrace every moment, and to be happy.  I strive to do this every day.  

Sometimes I feel a little alone in my thoughts on the subject.  I’ve encountered several people who care and who have concern for me regarding the fact that I survived a hostage situation.  Unfortunately, it seems that people always seem to feel awkward talking about it.  I like to talk about it.  I am not ashamed; I’m not going to break down and make people feel weird.  (well, maybe they will feel weird anyway, but I wish they wouldn’t.)  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that night, and I have come to realize that the only people who know the story of what really happened that night are me, Joey, Erick, Linda and CeCe.  We are the five people who were there that night; we were the hostages.  The story about the situation was aired on the news after the event.  The news reported many things incorrectly, including that the gunman voluntarily let us go, (which he didn’t,) and that the doctor in charge at the hospital was a man (um, no- it was ME!)  

Over the years several people have asked me to tell them the story, and I am happy to, but the story is long and inevitably people get bored, feel weird, or simply do not have enough time for the whole story. 

So, I’m going to tell it.  Right here.  Right now.  You can read it or not, but this is my story.  Keep in mind that this is my story, from my perspective.  I was not present for some very threatening events that occurred

with the other victims from that night.  I can comment on some things that I learned from them afterwards, but I cannot speak for them directly.  I do, however, know that it affected everyone involved profoundly.  

 

The story of the robbery of the EAC, Nov 19, 2007:

 

I was employed as a staff veterinarian and was working an overnight shift at the Emergency Animal Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.  The shift runs from 6pm until 8am the next day.  It had been a relatively busy night.  The first part of the night two doctors were working, myself and a “midshift” doctor whose shift was from 6pm until 1am.  

The midshift doctor and I had been joking about the crappy neighborhood that the hospital is located in.  We had heard that 3 days ago another veterinary hospital in the area was robbed.  Our hospital management had made up flyers regarding the incident, warning employees to be careful and vigilant.  These flyers were posted throughout the building in the employee areas, including one on the door to the doctor’s office.  We joked that in the movie Blood Diamond people would say “T.I.A.” meaning “this is Africa” to chalk up any bad shit that occurred to the fact that bad shit just plain happens in Africa.  We joked about how bad shit seems to occur in and around this hospital a lot.  We could say “T.I.P.”, meaning “This is Phoenix” regarding incidents like robberies, like the crazy clients strung out on drugs, like clients just acting crazy, or other weird shit that commonly seemed to occur at this hospital.  We had specifically been discussing how some clients refuse all medical advise and recommended treatments for their sick pets and insist that they have a “hunch” their animal will be fine, and disregard what we tell them:  “T.I.P.”

At around 1am the midshift doctor went home after her shift. 1am was also a shift change time for technicians.  The midshift techs get to leave and the overnight techs come on duty.  I, of course, was in it for the long haul and was working all night.  Angel and Erick were the last two midshift techs and were planning to leave soon.  The overnight techs, Joey and Linda were already there and working by 1am.  An overnight receptionist, CeCe, was already up at the front desk.  

There were no clients in the building at 1am, there were 8 patients hospitalized with us that night.   One of the patients was a large dog who was hospitalized because she was having seizures, and we were attempting to get them under control.  The patient had been doing well and hadn’t had any recent seizures.  Another patient was a rabbit with pneumonia, it was being administered oxygen by way of an “oxygen kennel” that had oxygen pumped into the cage.  The rabbit was actually doing really well, and I had been weaning him off oxygen as the night went on, and continued to turn the oxygen down as long as his breathing was good.  At 1am I thought he was breathing so well that I turned his oxygen completely off, and decided to watch him closely to make sure he could tolerate being off oxygen.  Another patient was a dog who just had surgery to remove her infected uterus which had become life threatening.  She was recovering from anesthesia and was being treated with iv fluids, antibiotics and pain medication.  The surgery had went well and she seemed to be doing ok.  To be honest, I cannot remember the other patients very well.  I remember all of the patients except for one was on an iv fluid drip, and luckily none of the patients were in a very critical condition.

Shortly after 1am a client came in with his dog for emergency care.  His dog had an ear infection and the dog was shaking its head.  I remember being irritated.  It never failed that people would bring in their animals at odd hours for things that aren’t really emergencies.  I do not consider an ear infection an emergency, and I had plenty of other work to do, but here it was.  I spoke with the client and looked at the dog.  The dog’s ear was indeed sore and the client agreed to let me give some pain medication, then clean and medicate the ears.  The client left money at the front, then said he was going to drive up the road to Jack-in-the-box, a 24hr fast food chain, to get some food.  I instructed the technicians to give the dog a dose of morphine and acepromazine for pain and sedation, and once it took effect we would flush clean the infected ear and treat it with appropriate medications.  As the techs were administering the morphine and acepromazine I went into the doctor’s office to start typing the record.

The doctor’s office had a two small desks, a staff refrigerator and a small couch.  One entire side of the office is a large window that faces the side of the building, and it is easy to see inside of the office at night.  The window faces part of the client parking lot, sort of the client “overflow” parking.  Near that area is a gate that leads to a fenced-in employee parking lot.  The gate is visible from the doctor’s office window.  However at night, it was hard to see out into the darkness.  The employee parking lot is completely fenced in and its only access is through the gate which is kept locked.  The back door of the building is accessible from the employee parking lot and a combination code must be entered to open the door.  

As I sat at a desk in the office and was typing medical records, I heard the back gate open.  This was not unusual because it was the time of shift changing, and I knew that Angel and Erick were leaving.  Erick and Angel went out together to unlock the gate.  They unlocked it and Angel was the first to drive out.  Before Angel left he asked Erick if he wanted him to wait until he was ready to leave too.  Erick had brought his English Bulldog, Gorda, with him to work that night, and was just getting her into the car.  Erick told Angel that was leaving directly behind him and that he was fine, and that he didn’t need to stay, so Angel got in his truck and drove away.  As Erick was getting Gorda into the car, a man came into the back parking lot and approached him.  Erick was a little surprised but not initially concerned.  He told the man that this area was for employees of the animal hospital only asked him to leave.  The man then pulled out a glock handgun and pointed it at Erick.  He told Erick to get the dog in the car and away from him.  Erick raised his hands and did as he was told.  The man led Erick up to the back door of the building at gunpoint and made Erick let him into the back door of the hospital.

Of course at the time, I didn’t know any of that had happened, and my first realization that something was wrong was when, from the doctor’s office, I suddenly heard a lot of yelling.  I couldn’t pick out every word, but I heard:  “you will all die here tonight,” and “get down!” and “do as you’re told!”  I got up from the desk and stuck my head out of the doctor’s office and looked into the treatment area.  I saw Joey (who I actually thought was Angel,) laying face down on the floor with his hands above his head.  I could not see anyone else.  ‘Oh fuck, we are actually being robbed,’ I thought.  For some reason even with the knowledge that another clinic had been robbed earlier in the week, it had never entered my mind that it would actually happen to me and my hospital.  I quickly retreated to the office and shut the door as quietly as I could and locked it.  The door is similar to a bathroom door with a similar lock.  As I shut the door, I looked at the shoddy handle and lock, and also realized how crappy the door itself was constructed, and at that moment I knew that the gunman would be coming through that door after me.  I picked up the phone in the doctor’s office and dialed 911.  The dispatcher answered and I whispered: “send help now” and then set that phone down on the table.  I wasn’t certain if they needed time to trace the location.  After I set the phone down I stood in the middle of the office and looked around.  I wondered if bad guys were outside looking in the window at me.  The windows didn’t open and I couldn’t get out through them.  I frantically and desperately looked around the doctor’s office for a way out or a place to hide. 

Panic started to set in as I realized there was absolutely no place to hide and no place to go.  I could hear more yelling and threats from the gunman through the door.   I knew the gunman would likely find me there and I didn’t know my best approach for survival.  It seems apparent to me that the gunman wanted us to lie on the floor with our hands out, since that was what he was telling others to do in the back of the hospital, so I crawled under the desk and then laid with my face down and may hands outstretched.  I could hear the man yelling and threatening everyone.  I heard him ask several times where the doctor was.  I felt like such a coward.  I was hidden away from my staff who might die.  I was hiding in the office hoping to not be seen and I was leaving everyone else on their own.  I was frozen in terror and remorse. I could hear the robber yelling at the people in the back.  ‘Oh my god, we could all die here,’ I thought in terror.  I laid there and had clear visions of my lifeless body in this same position with a gaping gunshot wound through my head and a large puddle of blood oozing all over the floor.  One thought kept circulating through my head:  ‘I don’t want that, please I don’t want that.’  

I heard the robber bringing Linda to the front of the building.  He was demanding money.  He took her up to the receptionist and encountered CeCe, who was at the front desk and had not had time to flee.  I didn’t hear what he said, but I found out later that she told him that any money we had was previously dropped into a drop safe for which no one had the key.  CeCe was threatened and the robber had the gun held up to her head and face.  He threatened to kill her.  He told her that he was going to give her less than 5 minutes to get the money from the safe and that if she tried to leave, or tried to call the police, or didn’t get the money, that he would kill her. 

After that he walked with Linda at gunpoint away from reception and to the back of the hospital.  The door to the doctor’s office is directly along the way.  I could hear them coming back because he was yelling the entire time.  I got up very quietly and put the phone back on the receiver and laid back on the floor in my original position, I didn’t want him to find that I had called 911.  The phone lines were all ringing constantly, no one was answering them.  The robber and Linda stopped at the door.  He asked Linda what was behind the door.  She told him nothing was behind the door.  He didn’t believe her and she told him it was a storage unit.  He asked her where the doctor was.  She told him that she didn’t know, and that the doctor leaves sometimes and that she thinks he left the building.  I was laying there listening to this and was shocked, proud and frightened.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I was shocked that Linda had the balls to lie to this guy, and she actually sounded calm.  She was really trying to protect me.  I felt a surge of love for her as my friend, and also a surge of fear and anger for putting herself at risk.  I knew that the robber would find out she was lying.  Before another second passed, the robber attempted to open the door and found it was locked.  

He started kicking the door, he kicked it several times.  I heard the wood of the door splintering but I didn’t dare to look up at it.  My face was against the floor and my arms and hands stretched out in front of me, similar to a “chid’s pose” used in yoga.  I heard the man step into the room.  I didn’t move from my location and did not look up.  He entered the room and immediately yelled “Where is she?!!”  He didn’t see me immediately because my body was under the desk and only my arms were sticking out.  I responded “I’m right here, I’m right here!”  I wanted to cooperate with him in every way possible.  ‘where is she?’ I thought to myself.  So he had been watching me at the window before entering the building.  He knew I was in there.  He walked right up to me and yelled at me:  “did you call 911?” 

I felt something against the left side of my head, which I knew must be a gun.  I didn’t answer immediately because I didn’t know how to answer, I thought he would kill me either way.  

He jabbed the gun into the left side of my head hard.  “Did you call 911?”  

I had a brief fleeting thought: ‘so this is how I die’ – and I said “yes, yes I called 911”  

He screamed at me “LOOK AT ME!”  I looked up at him. 

The barrel of the gun was directly in front of my eyes.  His arm was outstretched and the gun was pointed directly at my face.  He was wearing a gray hoodie and the hood was up and there was a red bandana across his face.  Only his eyes were visible.  He was a young white male.  He looked like a teenager.  I was shocked, because I could see that he was scared and I didn’t expect him to appear that way.  He also looked crazy.  He looked so young, sort of like a scared kid who wasn’t sure what to do, what he had just gotten himself into.  

He yelled at me again.  “When did you call them”  

I reported that I had just called them and they didn’t have time to get here yet, and that he could get out.  Meanwhile, from the moment I had called 911, the phone lines had been ringing off the hook.  They were ringing as he was pointing the gun at my face.  He told me to stand up, and I did.  He never dropped the gun from my face and I never took my hands from the air.  He told me that I needed to pick up the phone and talk to 911, and that I needed to tell them that we called on accident, tell them everything is fine, and that it was a prank.

With the gun at the side of my head, I picked up the phone:  “Emergency Animal Clinic, May I help you?”  There was a lady on the line.  I cannot recall all that she said, but she asked me if we were being robbed.  (I remember thinking, how could she know that? – I never said that).   I told her that everything was fine and that calling 911 was a mistake.  I’m sure I sounded nervous.  The robber had his face next to mine and the gun was painfully jammed into my left temple.  I didn’t know if he could hear what the woman on the line was saying.  I desperately wanted to hang up the phone.  She asked me if the robber was still there.  ‘Actually lady, the robber is here, he is so close that he can probably hear you.’  I thought.  I took a breath and responded: “I’m sorry, calling 911 was a prank, we are all fine, I’m sorry to bother you”  She kept talking and I set the phone down on the receiver.  The gun moved to my forehead and the robber demanded to know what she said.  I told him that she believed me.  

“WHAT EXACTLY DID SHE SAY?!!” he screamed into my face and pressed the gun into my forehead.  

I said something to the effect of “she told me she was glad we were all safe, and that we need to be careful not to call 911 unless there is an emergency” but I started to stutter and I had a hard time having the words leave my mouth because it was difficult for me to think.  I glanced at Linda who was standing next to the robber, she appeared to feel sorry for me. 

He paused for just a moment.  “Are they coming?”  

“I don’t think so, but they are 911, and they probably need to make sure – so maybe”  

He dropped the gun from my face for just a moment and looked to the side, seemed to be thinking.  He said matter-of-factly “They are coming.”

I started talking a lot to him.  I told him that he could get out before they came, and that I could help him, he could take my car, he could go out the back door, I asked him what else he wanted.  He told me he wanted money.  I told him we couldn’t get into the safe, and I’d be happy to give him all the money I had.  

He told me “Yes, give me all your money.”

“It’s in my bag, right here” I pointed at my messenger bag that was sitting on the couch in the office.  I slowly moved toward it, the gun was pointed at me again.  I grabbed my wallet that I bring to work, which is only a crappy batman kids wallet that I got as a present from a technician.  I only ever carry a little cash and never any credit cards or anything else in it.  I opened it up and saw I only had two dollars in it.  I took it out and handed it to him.  I remember thinking that I wished I brought my other wallet, so he could have more.  I wanted him to get enough to make him happy so that he would leave and leave me alone.  I didn’t want him to get pissed and I was scared he would shoot me because I only had $2.  I again offered him my car.  I told him I was sorry I didn’t have more money, I asked him if there was anything else he wanted.  I told him that I could get him drugs.  

“Yes, give me all your ketamine!”  I hadn’t mentioned ketamine, specifically.  I just told him I had access to controlled drugs, but I remember being happy that I could get him something.  Ketamine is a tranquilizing anesthetic that is used just a small amount in small animal medicine, mostly it is used in large animals like horses.  It is a drug that is being used less and less in small animal hospitals and used a lot by the “old school” veterinarians in small animal practice.  At the time we had a lot of ketamine in the hospital because there were plenty of veterinarians who worked for this hospital who still used it.  I was so relieved.  I was thinking, ‘Oh good, he wants ketamine!  That is something I can give him.  You want ketamine, I’ll give you so much ketamine that you can’t move.’

I told him that the ketamine was in a lock box in the back treatment area, but I could get it for him.  I grabbed the lock box key and he allowed me to lead him to the treatment area, but held the gun in my back as I did.  Linda followed us.  I walked across the treatment room floor, past Erick, who was still lying there, and I opened the door to the lock box and pulled out 5 bottles of ketamine and gave them to him. 

He grabbed them with his free hand and put them in his pocket.  I offered him other drugs, but he wasn’t interested in any others.  I thought of offering him the apomorphine.  Apomorphine is a drug that causes extreme vomiting, it’s what we use to induce vomiting in dogs who eat toxins.  He didn’t seem in the mood for any more suggestions, and I decided not to offer him any apomorphine.  After he had the ketamine he told me he needed to find a way out of the building.

The robber turned and focused his attention to Erick.  Erick was still lying on the floor with his face down and his hands out.  I didn’t see Joey anywhere.  The robber started yelling at me and Linda, told us to go lock ourselves in the kennels in the back of the treatment area.  Linda and I went back to the kennels,  I walked into the only large dog run and shut the door behind myself.  I didn’t think at the time that maybe I should have let Linda in with me, or given her that one, because she has arthritis, but Linda just stood nearby anyway and didn’t get in a kennel.  

We watched the robber make demands of Erick.  He went up to Erick and pointed the gun down at him.  He told him that he had to get up and go outside to look for the police.  If the police were there, Erick was to tell them that there wasn’t a problem, he needed to get them to go away.  He screamed at Erick to get up, but Erick didn’t move.   Erick remained on the floor and he was shaking.  The robber became angry and grabbed Erick by the back of his shirt and pulled him up like a rag doll.  Erick’s whole body was shaking and he was crying.  I felt really sorry for him. 

I remember wanted to hug him, to tell him it was going to be okay.  It’s funny the random thoughts that I had because I also thought at that moment: ‘Geez, Erick is really freaking out and it isn’t even that big of a deal.’  Erick tried to walk and he could barely walk, because he was shaking so bad.  I have seen creatures in my life who are very terrified; I’ve worked with animals who were scared and thought I was trying to kill them.  I feel like I have seen terror in other creatures before, but Erick appeared entirely more terrified than I have ever seen anybody or any animal, and I felt very bad for him.  The robber yelled at him, told him he needed to act naturally, and that he needed to get out there.  He told Erick to wait for him in his car, because he would be coming out to leave with him in a moment.  He walked Erick to the back door of the building, and Erick left through the door.  I started to wonder ‘Where the hell are the police anyway?  Why aren’t they here yet?’  

The robber yelled at me and Linda and told us to stay where we are.  He walked through the treatment area and up to the front of the building.  When he was out of sight for a moment, to my surprise I heard Joey’s voice say “How much does this suck?”  I looked down to see Joey locked into a small dog kennel near the floor (the kind of kennel built into the wall with a small latching door.)  Joey was balled up sitting with his knees tucked up near his chest because the kennel was small.  I expressed by surprise and asked when he got put in there.  He told me before Linda was taken up front with him to try to get money from the reception area.  

Before we could talk any more, the robber walked back into the area and targeted the gun at us again.  He asked if there was another way out.  Before I could even think, and for no reason that I can think of, other than I’m likely an idiot, I volunteered to help the robber find a way out or hide.  I asked him if I could come out and help him, and that I wanted him to get out.  He came and got me, held the gun at me and told me to come with him.  I immediately regretted my stupidity but went with him.  

Together we walked up near the exam rooms.  He was looking up near at the drop ceilings and looking down the halls.  For the first time, he focused the gun elsewhere than one of us, and he pointed down the hall with it and asked me if there were a way out that way.  I told him I didn’t think so.  I told him that his best bet is to leave out the back door of the building and run behind the building and jump the fence.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to do that.  He started looking around.  He focused the gun back on me for a moment, then again took it off me and looked down another hallway.  He moved his hood down from the top of his head and removed the bandana from his face.  

He said “This is stupid,” and he asked me what my name was, I told him I was Melissa. He said “Hi Melissa, I’m Anthony.”  

I meekly just said “hi.”  I thought it would be rather stupid to say ‘nice to meet you.’  My thoughts reeled, why was he doing this?  Was he giving up and would he figure he just better shoot us now?  Again, I started to wonder:  ‘Where the fuck are the police??’

 I told him he could trust me and that I would try to get him out of here.  He told me that he would pay me $20,000 if I could get him out without being caught.  I told him I didn’t want any money, but I really just wanted him to be able to get out.  (In all honesty, I was telling the truth too.  At that moment I did not care if he got out and got away, as long as he got away from me and my staff.)  He told me to follow him and I did; he walked through the treatment area and took off his hoodie and put it in a box that was there, he said he was doing it to throw off the dogs police would bring in to track him.  Then he walked down the hall to the last exam room in the hallway.  He went inside and kept looking up at the ceiling.  It was fairly obvious that he was going to jump up on the exam table and crawl into the ceiling.  He emptied his pockets and took out the ketamine, he told me he didn’t want it anyway and he opened a drawer in the exam room and he put the ketamine in it.  He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and asked me if it was mine.  I said no, he put it back in his pocket. He pulled out all the money in his pocket which was folded up.  He handed it to me and told me it was $10,000.  He said I could have it, and he would give me another $10,000 if I got him out without being caught.  I looked down at the money and unfolded it and looked at it.  It was obvious it was less than $50 and I quickly looked back up at him, he had the gun back on me.  I said “ok.”  He told me that I needed to go back to the dog kennel and lock myself back in.  I needed to wait for the police to come and when they arrived to tell them that he got out and got away and is no longer around.  

I left the room.  I walked back to the treatment area quickly and quietly.  I walked past Joey and Linda and signaled for them to be quiet.  I walked past them to the back door of the building.  I thought to myself that I’d just poke my head out and see if it seemed safe, then motion for Joey and Linda to follow if it seemed ok.  

I slowly and quietly opened the door a little bit.  I stuck my head out a little and was immediately encountered with at least 6-8 guns in my face, I came out the rest of the way with my hands up.  The guns were all held by the police.  Several police were motioning for me to come away from the building.  I hesitated and tried to go back in, but the police yelled at me to not go back in.  One was waving me to come to him and was saying, “it’s ok, you’re safe now.”  

I looked around for a moment.   There was a line of police in full riot gear and shields who were along the side of the building.  I saw at least one police dog in the line of police and I noticed at least two helicopters circling above the building and lights were shining down at the building.   I ran to the police officer who motioned for me to come to him.  I told him two more people were just inside the back door in kennels and that the police could go get them.  I became upset when the policeman said they were not going in to get Joey and Linda.  I told him that the robber wasn’t nearby and he was either hiding or he got out, and Joey and Linda are “just right there!”  The police officer told me there was no way the robber got out, and that the place has been completely surrounded.  He was 100% sure that the robber was still in the building.  

He led me away from the building and I saw Erick.  Erick was not wearing a shirt.  Erick and I ran toward each other and hugged for a long time.  I was so happy to see him.  I asked him if he saw CeCe, he told me that she made it out.  A policeman told us that we were not allowed to talk to each other, that we had to be questioned individually and we could not discuss things, because it might change our stories.  He said we could still be nearby each other.   The policeman took us over to another area and CeCe was there, and so were Joey and Linda.  We all hugged each other and we were very, very relieved.  CeCe was crying.   

The next events took what seemed like forever.  The police spent long periods of time questioning us, and other policemen kept interrupting us to ask questions about the building and access to the building.  They were trying to figure out how best to get in and catch this guy.  Someone eventually brought Erick a shirt and he put it on.  The police made Erick draw a map of the entire building.  Erick was the one who knew the building the best.  The hospital is a large building with two floors and lots of offices and storage areas inside and Erick spent a long time detailing the layout with the police.  

Eventually the five of us were gathered together in an RV-like vehicle.  The police let us go escorted to the convenience store to use the bathroom and by some drinks and snacks.  We used the bathroom, but none of us really wanted snacks.  They asked more questions about the building.  They interviewed us more.  They asked over and over again how to get into the building.  Our answer every single time was “Just walk in, the front doors are always unlocked and they are automatic, they will just open when you walk up to them”  For some reason the police kept asking.

After a few hours, around 4am, a police officer came and told us that there was a car attempting to approach the building.  Inside were people and a dog; they wanted to see the vet, and the dog is sick.  I was not happy.  I did not want to see the dog, especially not out in the road with police all around.  Joey said he would go talk to them, and he pulled my stethoscope off my neck, which I had still had there and never had removed.  He went and talked to the people quickly assessed the dog.  The dog was in stable condition.  Joey told the people to go to another emergency facility.  

The police made ready a machine called “the bomb,” which was a robot that could enter the building.  This robot has a video camera so people could see what was going on.  The “bomb” was also set up to talk through, so that police could attempt to negotiate with a person by using it.   It was a little exciting to see the robot roll down the street and toward the building.  Once inside, the bomb didn’t find the robber, or any sight of him.

It was around 5am before anyone actually entered the building.  We heard reports every now and again from other police officers that they could not locate the robber.  I told them several times that he was likely in the ceiling.

A police man came and told us that a dog got out of the kennel and was walking around the building, they had locked it in a room.   Shortly after hearing about the loose dog, a police officer told me they were going to remove all the animals from the building and gas out the robber.  He asked me what the best plan for moving the animals was.  My heart sank.  All of us were already worrying about the welfare of the patients and moving them was definitely NOT in their best interest.  Police were not properly trained how to move sick or injured animals safely.  I told the police that moving them was a very bad idea and that it would be harmful to them, that there needs to be another way to get the robber.  He told me that was the decision that had been made and he told me that they were going to move the animals, and I needed to instruct them how to do it.  He asked me again how to move them.  I told him that iv catheter connections need to be dealt with properly, we have painful animals who could bite if moved improperly and that rabbits have to be handled carefully or they may break their backs and I advised against moving them at all.  Eventually he relented and agreed to not move them.

It was nearing waking hours and they still did not locate the robber.  The management of the hospital were notified and had come to the area.  Who knows what the owners of the patients were doing.  I just imagined the guy who went to Jack-in-the-box and had come back to a place surrounded by the police.  Eventually me and the other “victims” were allowed to talk to each other.  When we were allowed to talk I first asked if the dog with the ear infection was put into a kennel or if he was just wandering around in the hospital, as far as I knew, the robber may have encountered them in the middle of the pain injection they were supposed to give.  Joey and Linda told me that dog was put in a kennel.  I wondered which dog was found loose.  

We talked among ourselves for a little while about our experiences.  I learned a lot about what happened before the robber entered the doctor’s office.  I learned about how the robber encountered Erick and entered the building.  I found out that the robber had placed the gun to Linda’s head and began counting down from 5, threatening to shoot when the countdown was over.  I found out that CeCe had hit the panic button almost right away, and that she answered the phone when 911 was calling back and informed them we were being robbed.  I found out that the robber attempted to get Joey to give him his car keys and Joey had just gotten a new car and didn’t want to lose it and told the robber “I ride the bus,” and the robber kicked him in the ribs.  We laughed at Joey’s wit and quick thinking to tell the robber that he rides the bus, and we laughed because the robber didn’t even want my car when I offered it to him.  I found out that when Erick left out the door of the building, that the police thought that Erick was the robber.  When he came outside after being pushed out by the gunman, and he was immediately seized and stripped down and handcuffed, and that was why he wasn’t wearing a shirt when I next saw him.  I found out that CeCe sat up front scared shitless after she was told she had to get the money out of the drop safe.  She actually managed to get quite a bit of money out for the robber and laid it all out on the counter.  She sat there with it for a moment.  When she heard the robber kicking in the doctor’s office door, she actually thought the noises were gunshots and she thought we were all being killed.  She told us that she thought that she would surely be killed too, but she had to chance it, and she ran through the front lobby and out the door.  She said she felt so guilty for living when she thought we were all dying.  For some reason, this was the saddest thing to me and I was moved to tears for the first time.  

We had to sit in the RV vehicle for a long time while police worked on strategies.  We joked a little about other things, including how ironic it was that the robber kicked down the door that had a flyer on it about another vet clinic being robbed, and the flyer said that we should all be aware and prepared to call 911 if needed.

Around 7am we all got mug shots taken of ourselves which will identify the “victims” in the case file.  We also were told that two people could go into the building to help tend the animals.  We would be escorted.  The robber had not yet been found inside the building, but they felt they had secured the area around the animals.  I looked around me.  As far as they eye could see there was police and police vehicles.  They were there to protect us.  I had never been so happy to be a taxpaying citizen paying for police services in my life.  I volunteered to go into the hospital to work with the animals.  Linda also volunteered.  We went together.  We were escorted up to the building with the police officer.  A manager of the hospital, Sue, was there; she was called at home and came directly to the hospital.  She pulled me aside and told me she could come and help instead of Linda.  I told her I wanted Linda to come.  The truth is that I wanted Linda to come because she knew what I’d been through and I only wanted people there who understood what we just went through.  I didn’t want to answer any questions for Sue.  Before I went into the hospital, I stopped by Erick’s car and checked on his dog, Gorda.  She was still in there, and doing just fine.  Linda and went in to the hospital and there were many, maybe 10 police officers in elaborate outfits with bullet proof armor.  It didn’t go unnoticed by me that I didn’t have a bullet proof vest on.  There were 6 fluid pumps alarming and they were very loud.  I imagined that the police were driven somewhat insane from this noise over the past several hours.

The very first thing I did was shut off all of the alarming fluid pumps and when the last one was silenced, I saw a wave of relief fall over the police officers in the room.  I went from patient to patient, making sure they were stable.  The first one I checked was the bunny.  I had shut off his oxygen at 1am, and wasn’t sure if he could handle it at the time.  Well, it appeared that he could handle it.  He was running around in the kennel and looked just fine, so I was happy about that.  All of the other patients looked good, but the dog who had surgery to remove her infected uterus was not in her kennel.   Turns out she was the one who broke out of her kennel.  She ripped out her iv as she exited her kennel, and then took revenge upon the surgery room and bled from her iv site as she walked around the surgery suite.  The police shut the doors on her and locked her in there. I went to get her, she seemed scared.  I told her it would all be okay and I gently lifted her up and took her back to her kennel.   

Everyone’s kennel was a huge mess and Linda and I began cleaning them and later putting notes in records for each patient.  The police were searching the ceiling of the building, which was, I found out, a very complicated structure with plenty of hiding places.  The police would search and poke their heads into the ceiling, holding their guns out.  They would occasionally yell out and startle me.  They yelled things like “It’s ok, you can come out, we aren’t going to hurt you,”  “Come out now,”  “We are going to find you, you may as well come out now”, and “Get out here before I have to find you and kick your ass!”   My mood was on edge, and I was very upset in general.  The phones were ringing off the hook.  All four phone lines were ringing constantly and were also quite annoying.  Linda and I refused to answer the phone. 

Someone came and told me that my boss, Dr. Paster, was trying to reach me and that I needed to call her; she was working at the Scottsdale branch location and I should call her there.  I did, and when I got on the phone with her she was very concerned and relieved that we were all ok.  She asked me what I needed.  For some reason that set me off and I completely went off in a rage – not directed at her, exactly, just general frustration:  I  started yelling about how I wanted staff standing by to come in and relieve me and Linda as soon as police let them and they need to take over these patients because I was in no mood to continue working and cleaning up piss and re-setting iv catheters.  I told her there was no way in hell I was talking to any of the clients of any of the patients that were here because I would not be able to handle any questions anyone might have about the robbery.  And I told her that if, by the way, she was one of the people calling and making the phone lines ring off the hook to STOP CALLING, because me and Linda are NOT answering the phone and WE DON’T GIVE A FUUUCCCKKKK!!  My voice turned shrill and I was screaming into the phone by the end of my rant.  She paused for a moment and calmly and matter-of-factly replied: “Okay, I’ll get it all taken care of”  I hung up on her, slamming the phone down.  As upset as I was, I was very happy that she was my boss.

As we worked on the animals, we were interrupted several times to be asked more questions.  I showed the police where the robber hid his hoodie (which I had explained to them before) and I showed them the drawer with the ketamine in it (which I had also explained to them before.)   

It was around 9am when Linda and I were told that we had to leave the building because they found the robber.  He was actually hidden in the ceiling right above where I had been working on the animals, and he had wrapped himself in insulation, which explained why the police failed to find him with their heat seeking equipment.   

We got questioned more after the robber was apprehended.  We were all separated and questioned individually.  We had to see if we could identify the robber in a “photo lineup.”  All of us except Cece, who didn’t look at the robber at all, could identify him easily.   For some reason the police wouldn’t let the new staff come in to relieve us.  I had to stay and I waited to round the next doctor on the patients when the police eventually would let her in.   

The police did let the CEO of the company in, as well as some of the board members.   They walked these people around as me and Linda worked, the police let Joey in for a little bit to help also for a short time, but still weren’t letting in other staff so we still couldn’t go home.  I could hear the board members and the CEO walking around, they were getting a “tour” of the events.  I heard:  “Here’s where the doctor hid under the desk,”  “Here’s where the robber broke down the door,”  “Here’s where the staff were locked in kennels.”  The board members and the CEO responded “Oh my,” “Oh wow,” “Oh my goodness,” “Oh, how horrible.”   I was really pissed.  I just wanted to go home.  My terror was not a tour!  Especially not right in front of me, not while I still wasn’t allowed to go home.  

People kept approaching me with different issues.  Someone actually came up to me to tell me that the guy with the dog who had the ear infection was here.  I told the messenger that the dog was ok, but we didn’t get the chance to look at or treat the ear, but the dog is absolutely fine to leave with the owner and go somewhere else.   The messenger left and immediately came back to tell me that the dog’s owner had told the staff out front that he expected the dog to be examined and treated as promised, that we promised we would treat the ear and he expected us to do it now.   I was so pissed.  I yelled at the poor messenger who told me this, my face likely turning red and me spitting during the process of my shouting: “Oh no way is this guy telling me to look at his fucking dog’s ear infection right now after I almost got shot in the head!  I am absolutely NOT doing that.  If he wants to tell me to my face that I need to look at his dog’s ear you just go ahead and bring him back here and I’ll tell him to go straight to hell!  I am not looking at his dog’s ear and I GUARANTEE you that he does NOT want to discuss this with me right now!!”  I was screaming at this poor person.  This person then told me it would be taken care of, and I never heard about it again.  Good.   

The main shareholder and major board member of the company came to talk to me.  I had never met him before.  He asked me a bunch of questions and asked me how I was hanging in there.  I was annoyed and told him I was just concerned with the animals and wanted to make sure they were taken care of, and that I wanted to round them to the next doctor and I really wanted to just go home.  He told me that he was impressed with me, and that he understood that the police aren’t letting the next doctor in yet.  I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t at all impressed with him, and that isn’t he a doctor?  Isn’t this more his damn hospital than anybody’s and why isn’t he helping me with these patients?  Why isn’t he taking rounds from me and letting me leave?  

It was 1pm by the time the police allowed the next staff doctor to come in and take rounds and take over patient care and I went home.  It was a long night.  I spent the next week in a state of shock, intermittently thinking ‘Hey, I’m such a badass, look at what I went through,’ and then intermittently crying and holding my cat.  I spent long periods of time just staring into space.  

After the event several people called me.  My head boss, Dr. Plunkett, kept calling me over and over again and I kept letting it go to voicemail.  She didn’t stop calling and finally I got so sick of the phone ringing that I answered it.  She just wanted me to know that she cared and wanted to see if I needed anything.  I told her that I needed time and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I was happy that she called.  So many people called, I only answered for a few, but I appreciated them all.  My friend Cathy called after she saw a report on the news even when she lived in California.  I didn’t answer initially and she left a message.  Her message said “I am just checking on you, I heard your hospital was robbed, I know that something like 30 vets works for your company, so it probably wasn’t you involved, but you work so damn much that maybe it was.  I want to know if you are ok.  Call me.”  I called her back and when she answered the phone all I could choke out through my tears was “Cathy, it was me.  It was me!” and we cried together on the phone for several minutes.  

There was a very long and drawn out sentencing process, but eventually the robber was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 5 years probation after that.   His info can be seen at the following website.

http://www.azcorrections.gov/inmate_datasearch/results_Minh.aspx?InmateNumber=235495&LastName=BASILE&FNMI=A&SearchType=SearchInet

I have been very grateful to everyone who cares about me and to everyone who lent me support after this happened.  Life is such a gift.  I intend to enjoy it and hope you will too.  

Thank you for reading if you made it this far.  I appreciate it.  

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20 thoughts on “The Robbery

  1. Melissa, I love you. Every time I hear or read this story, I am amazed by you, I am saddened by the events. I am angry with you. I am happy you are alive. I am blessed by your friendship. This sounds like it is all about me – sorry! Please know that if you ever need to talk it out, to shout it out, anything, I am here for you. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Thanks Melanie. I’ve mostly worked out all my feelings on the subject, just want my friends to know it happened and want everyone to stay safe. Thanks for your thoughts and comments, means a lot.

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  2. Hey Doc. Thank You so much for writing this even tho I cried though most of it. I still talk about that night alot but your right no one quite understands how devastating and life changing something like this can be until you have been through it. We will always have a special bond between us because we lived to tell about it. And I thank God everyday for still being alive. Love You always friend. Life is special enjoy and savor every moment.

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    • I only wish I knew about Linda. She was my hero that night. I kept in contact with her for about a year after the event, but she quit the job and I completely lost track of her. Honestly, I don’t even know if she is alive, I’ve tried to track her down and I can’t find her. I’ve even checked the obituaries and at least couldn’t find her there either. Cece is the only one I keep in touch with still and she seems to be doing well. Joey had a wife and a baby at the time of the robbery, they had a second baby since, but I lost contact with them as well. Erick moved out of state and I lost contact with him too. I love them all and wish the best for everyone. If anyone reading this knows where anyone is, please let me know.

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  3. Even after six years this is still so hard to read again, so I imagine it must be very hard for you to go over it again. You are so brave. I love you and you’re right,,,,,, I will never know what you went through. Even though I don’t know the staff, I feel such love for them….. I am so glad you are alive too. You have had wonderful adventures since then.. I am truly glad you can describe yourself as “Seeker of Fun.”

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    • Thanks mom. I love you too. Don’t worry too much about me, the pain and hurt from the night definitely has lessened a large amount. Mostly I like to share the story so that others know about it, and that so people can be careful in shady situations and also learn to take life by the horns and go out and do the things they want to do. It was actually you who helped me to decide to do things I desire sooner rather than putting them off for later. You told me “your ability to do what you want can be taken away in a heartbeat, so you should do it while you can.” I already knew this and strived to achieve my personal goals. The robbery incident did add some fire to those desires. Thanks for being a great mom!

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  4. I never knew that you went through this, Melissa. I am so happy that you made it through this. You have always been such a strong person, and thank you for having the courage to share this experience with everyone. You’re a good person and you deserve to be safe and not have to go through something as traumatizing as this. I’m hoping that you continue to heal emotionally from this, and that you are safe from anything like this in the future.

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  5. Melissa, I am so terribly sorry that a company I worked for put you through this ordeal. They did not cause the robbery but their lack of security enabled it and their lack of compassion and understanding afterwards contributed to the stress and emotional breakdown of all of those affected. I am happy that I no longer work there. Every time I went into that office in that clinic, all I could think of was you and how terribly frightening it would have been to be stuck in that office with no way out, and to hear the robber kicking in the door. You were and are very brave. It is very sad that there was a lack of emotional support for all of you after the fact. I wish I would have been in town and able to help you more at the time. Whatever I can do, I will be here for you now.

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    • Thanks Signe. You and Paster were really great. Some others were really great too including Doris. The company overall I believe handled the situation quite poorly for all people involved. Very disappointing.

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  6. Melissa,

    I just read your well-written account of your experience. I wanted to let you know that that event scared the shit out of me and I knew it must have been horrifying for everyone who was actually there. If you recall, I also worked there a fair amount the previous year. By the way, I always thought you were really cool, a very good vet, and wished I could be more like you, especially your attitude!

    Anyway, the day that all this was on the news in the morning, I remember telling my husband, “SEE! I told you that place was scary and fucked up! Now you know why I didn’t want to work there!” I also said, “If that had been me working, I would walk out the door after it was over and never come back.”

    I was so glad that didn’t happen when I was there, but sadly, was not at ALL surprised that it happened. I won’t go in to my opinions on how the place was run. Suffice to say I, too, am so sorry that you were put into that situation.

    I think about that event and YOU all the time. You are not forgotten. No words can ever erase the experience, but just know there are people like me sending you love and support. I sincerely hope you find peace and fulfillment in this world. The profession we’ve both chosen can be very brutal in more than one way. Drop me a line if you feel like talking or need emotional support of any kind!

    Tabitha (Thompson)

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  7. Melissa, I’m lost for words. It’s hard enough reading that story, let alone being involved. I am of course so glad that you made it out and that I met you. You are kind-hearted and brave amongst many other great attributes, generally an awesome human being!

    Even though you live 5,200 miles away (thanks Google) you are a friend and I hope that you always stay safe.

    P.S – was your car really THAT bad?!

    Much Love, From Sam x

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    • Thank you so much Sam! I am glad you are my friend too. Haha I don’t think the robber even knew what car I drove. I think he was scared of getting caught at that point and just wanted to try hiding in the building instead.

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  8. I just realized the link at the bottom of the blog has now been re-directed and doesn’t show the robber’s mug shot as he is no longer in prison. I found this link which does show his photo. Also, be aware most news regarding the incident is filled with errors. There were a lot of reports saying that he released the kenneled animals, which is not true. If he did, he only released one, but I am more likely to believe that the one probably broke out of it one her own. http://blogs.kansascity.com/crim…/2007/11/gary-basile.html

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  9. Melissa,it’s been a while,glad to see how well you have turned this experience inti a catalyst to LIVE now and not wait til later! I cried through this entire read,i feel so bad for all of you,and so proud to know you,and fortunate to have worked with you. This was beautifully written,thank you for sharing this,now we know the whole story ❤ Take care of yourself,maybe we'll meet again some day,you never know,muah!

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