It was around 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Two employees were closing up shop at a Verizon store in Winona until a stranger walked in.
He could have been any customer. Except for the bandana over his face. And the gun in his hand.
The stranger told the workers to go into the back room. Then he hog-tied them at the wrists and ankles.
Neither were hurt, but that didn't make things any easier. The gunman stuffed as many cellphones as he could into a bag. Police reports say he managed to get away with over 100 devices, plus about $400 in cash.
Little else is known about who this person was or where he went. A police report says he might have gotten into a car driven by someone else—reportedly a vehicle with “square taillights.” But it’s not a lot for law enforcement to go on. (Police didn’t respond to interview requests.)
It’s not exactly an original scheme. Investigators have been looking for armed robbers hitting cellphone stores across the metro for a month, according to WCCO. Eight stores were hit around closing time over the course of October. The robbers usually wore hoodies pulled tightly around their faces, or Halloween masks.
Then there was last year, when four Minnesotan teens got busted while trying to burglarize a Verizon store in Albert Lea—after having already hit up two different stores in Iowa.
In 2017, a Crystal man tried to rob an Inver Grove Heights store in much the same way. He held a gun to the clerk’s head while demanding money and cellphones, according to a report by the Star Tribune.
Unfortunately for him, it didn’t go as smoothly. The clerk pretended to go along with things until he pulled a gun from his own waistband and shot the robber. The act saved Verizon a bit of money, and the culprit and his accomplice both got prison time for their trouble. But a stray bullet did end up wounding a worker in a nearby restaurant.