When the mall was filled with high school students on lunch break and parents pushing small children around in prams, that was when a pair of armed thieves chose to attack a jewelry store.
Two masked assailants brandishing a hammer and carrying pepper spray rushed into Michael Hill Jewellers at about 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, and smashed their way into glass showcases containing valuable items. They made off with a number of valuables but neither of them made it out of the building.
According to witnesses, the first one to be apprehended only got a few feet before he was tackled by a member of the public and a mall security guard. Handcuffs were on that suspect moments later because, said Prince George RCMP spokesman Cpl. Craig Douglass, "a plainclothes member was on duty in the mall on other matters and happened to be in the vicinity," so arrest was almost as swift as the tackle.
The second suspect got as far as Zellers where another public intervention, along with store security officer, worked to bring that fleeing thief to the ground as well. By then, Mounties were converging in numbers on the mall, so handcuffs were again quick to follow.
All that was left was a sweep of the area to ensure no other suspects (getaway driver, lookout, accomplice, etc.) were outside, and then the task of gathering the evidence.
What police call evidence, the witnesses called aftermath. Many who were confronted by the incident were shaken by it. One of the store's employees was mother to a high school student who happened to arrive for a lunch hour visit only moments after the calamity. The teen was said by an observer to be livid "that someone made his mom cry" and he was earnestly looking for the guilty party to express that anger.
Laura MacFarlane, manager of the Cell Planet kiosk directly in front of the jewelry store, was in the open and only a few feet from the entire incident.
"It's actually terrifying," she said. "Thank god the Visions lady [the next store over] saw me and was nice enough to call us inside their place when they locked down. We don't have doors to close or walls to go behind."
Aaron Gates worked at another kiosk nearby and was on his way to visit MacFarlane when the smashing and fleeing unfolded.
"It was surreal. You see them running and think 'that's not normal to rush into a store like that' and then your mind kind of figures some of it out. 'Oh, wait, and they have hammers,'" said Gates, who is also a CNC criminology students. He figures he has some extra class credit coming his way.
The staff of Michael Hill was sequestered behind walls, working with police on the investigation. Directly across the mall's corridor is another bling shop, Paris Jewellers, where the staff could only enact robbery protocols they have been trained in, and then consider how it could easily have been them that got the delinquent visit.
One Paris staffer, Marjorie, said she has seen a number of robberies of this nature, including once in the 1990s where the thieves were shooting guns into the ceiling to add to their menacing act. Their own store had a high profile theft in the last couple of years, but it was an after-hours burglary.
The jewelry industry has a communications network, said Marjorie, and stores had been warned in recent days (perhaps due to other unrelated armed robberies in the city) to be on their guard.
"No one was hurt during this incident and all stolen items are believed to have been recovered," said Douglass, who added there is a wide range of eye witness and video surveillance evidence piecing these arrests back to the victimized staff at the Michael Hill store.
The suspects, Prince George men aged 21 and 22, have charges pending but, said Douglass, are not believed to be involved in any of the other armed robberies afflicting the city in recent days.
"The Prince George RCMP would like to thank all of those persons that assisted in this investigation including security officers, employees and members of the general public," he added.
If you have any information about this incident, please contact the Prince George RCMP at (250)561-3300 or anonymously contact Crime Stoppers at 1(800)222-TIPS (8477), online at www.pgcrimestoppers.bc.ca, or Text-A-Tip to CRIMES (274637) using keyword "pgtips".