HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Police in Helena-West Helena are following leads and vow to make an arrest in Monday’s armed robbery of a bank and attempted robbery of a post office. Now, new evidence is emerging.
When the gunman wearing a “Scream” mask entered the post office lobby, employees went into a safe area, allegedly abandoning customer Jay Southard in the open with the armed man.
“I was blessed,” Southard said. “The Lord looked after me that day because I was totally, totally vulnerable. There’s nothing I could have done.”
Southard says he feared for his life when an armed robber entered the West Helena branch of the U.S. Post Office. He said he was just trying to mail a package and was the only customer in the lobby.
“I’d just run my credit card, and the door opened behind me,” Southard said. “And the clerk started yelling, ‘Get out, get out, get out,’ and disappeared.”
Southard said he felt abandoned and on his own when the robber jumped the counter and started yelling.
“‘Open the drawers, open the drawers, give me everything, give me everything,'” Southard said. “And I hit the ground.”
Southard, a former police officer, was not armed.
“At one point he asked me to open the drawers,” he said. “I yelled at him, ‘I’m a customer.'”
He said the robber left after he couldn’t get the cash drawers opened.
A picture of the man wearing a “Scream” mask was taken three minutes later when he robbed a Southern Bancorp branch on Plaza Avenue.
Police said there’s no video of the suspect inside the post office and expressed concerns about the branch’s security.
Southard said he learned the hard way the crime apparently wasn’t recorded.
“That really threw me off,” he said. “There was nothing to deter that kind of crime from happening. I felt victimized by the post office, as well as I did by the robber.”
Southard was able to give police a good description of the getaway car, and investigators are running down a number of leads. He just hopes police make an arrest before the masked man strikes again.
“There was nothing I could do,” Southard said. “Just try to be as non-threatening as I could, and that’s all I could do, and that’s what I did.”
A U.S. Postal Service spokesperson said the attempted robbery at the West Helena branch is under investigation and that the safety of postal employees and customers is a top priority. They said some branches have security cameras, and some do not.
A $50,000 reward is being offered by the post office.
Police said they’re also looking to see if there’s any connection to a robbery Saturday of the Tobacco Supercenter committed by a man wearing a gorilla mask.