By Sara Brown
---- — LAWRENCE — Lawrence police finally caught the alleged gunman who unwittingly showed his face in front of a store security camera last week during an armed robbery of the Super Mas Market on Essex Street.
Police yesterday arrested city resident Anthony Joseph Velasquez, 23, just two days after capturing his accused accomplice, Remys Fernando Lara, 22, also of Lawrence.
Velasquez and Fernando robbed the store of about $300 in cash and three packs of Newport cigarettes while wearing black ski masks on Feb. 10, according to detectives. A store surveillance video released by the Lawrence Police Department shows Velasquez lifting up his ski mask for a few seconds as he stood with a handgun at the counter inside the store, police said.
The two arrests come five weeks after the Armed Robbery Task Force was initiated by Mayor Dan Rivera and interim Police Chief James Fitzpatrick. A significant spike in armed robberies since late last year was the catalyst for the new local crime-fighting initiative.
“After noticing an uptick of armed robberies throughout the city, the mayor and I comprised a task force and as a result, we were able to get a break,” the chief said.
The State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section, State Police Crime Scene Unit, and the task force worked together to identify the suspects. But, officials credited their arrests to the community’s willingness to work with law enforcement. Lawrence Patrolman Ivan Melendez was on patrol when he received an anonymous tip regarding the identification of Vasquez.
“Not only was this a combined effort of the police force, but this case was ultimately cracked as a result of the willingness of concerned citizens to reach out to police,” Melendez said “These citizens portrayed confidence in their city police department during a time that they felt unsafe, at a time that the crimes occurred close to home,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said police received several anonymous tips from residents who identified Velasquez in the video police released.
Police have interest in finding out if Velasquez has anything to do with the various other armed robberies in the city. Police have said previously that they suspect Velasquez and Fernando were involved in at least six armed robberies in the Tower Hill section of the city over the past two months.
“We tried questioning him (Velasquez), but then he asked for a lawyer so we didn’t get that far,” Fitzpatrick said
“Thanks to the concerted efforts of these Law Enforcement units, and particularly Officer Melendez, our city is safer today,” Rivera said. “These arrests should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they will carry out illegal activity in our city. If you come to our city and commit a crime, you will be prosecuted. We are not in the business of crime. We are in the business of making Lawrence better, and that starts with making our streets safer.”
Velasquez is being held without bail, pending the outcome of a dangerousness hearing scheduled for next Wednesday.
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