ROCKINGHAM — A robbery at the Leak Street Cultural Center Wednesday afternoon was partly thwarted by the bravery of “heroine” Annie Pratt of the Project FOCUS program who happened to be in the boardroom with J.C. Watkins and another board member at the time.
Watkins said it happened shortly after the Summer Food and Fun Camp closed for the day.
“I was in the midst of it all when it happened,” Watkins said. “We were in the conference room summarizing what had happened during the day and planning. The money was counted and ready to be deposited for the day. Ms. Wall had put the money in the deposit bag into one of those rolling carts you can use to carry other items. I was on the telephone and I paid no attention to the person who came in.
“Ms. Wall told me a guy asked for money for gas, and she opened up her purse and he took all she had. And they were looking around for the money bag, I think. I saw when the young man grabbed the deposit bag and then Ms. Annie Pratt started screaming at him. She’s not part of our program. She’s with Project FOCUS. So she tackled him and took him to the floor and he was scuffling all the way to the door.
“She was holding onto that push cart and scuffling with him and they went all the way outside the door before he, I think he hit or kicked her arm, and he broke loose and started running to the getaway vehicle. He fell three or four times while he was running, I guess he was trying to get there fast before Annie Pratt caught him again. But in the midst of all that scuffling, Ms. Pratt had the wherewithal to get the license plate that was on the van. She was a heroine.”
Watkins said Pratt sustained some discoloration on her arm, but he believes she was not seriously injured in the scuffle.
“I went to call 911 but they said somebody had already called,” Watkins said. “I told them the van had sped away and seemed to be heading toward Long Drive. It wasn’t long after that they caught the suspects.”
A call for assistance in locating the vehicle went out, but troopers said it was soon canceled because the suspects were in custody.
Watkins said that they were all asked to come to the Rockingham Police Department, where Wall and Pratt were able to positively identify both suspects.
“I remember one had a shirt with a circle on it, with gridlocks,” Watkins said. “But that turned out to be a female. There was one male and one female. I believe she disguised herself somewhat to look like a male.”
Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly confirmed that two suspects in custody Wednesday evening were from Scotland County.
However, he would not release their names because they hadn’t officially been charged, as officers were still investigating.
Kelly said the information obtained by the witnesses “helped in the apprehension of the suspects.”
Watkins said the full amount of the stolen money had not yet been recovered.
“It was about $300-$400,” Watkins said. “Ms. Wall knows the exact amount because she had just totaled it all up. The police said they had not done a complete search of the suspects or the van, but both are in custody. I hope they can recover all the money. Sometimes they swallow money, you know. But I don’t know how they would have had time to do that, it all happened so fast.”
Asked what he would do in the case that the suspects did indeed swallow the money, Watkins laughed.
“Well, I wouldn’t want that back,” he said. “I would think the bank would issue clean money to replace it.”
Reporter William R. Toler contributed to this story. Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.