EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2013

Editorial: Spate of robberies places public at risk

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — A string of bank robberies in the Merrimack Valley and a pair of holdups in Southern New Hampshire are stark reminders that there are desperate and dangerous people among us.

And too often, that desperation is driven by drug use.

In Derry last week, police arrested Rochelle Richards, 23. She was charged with robbery for a holdup of an East Derry convenience store and attempted robbery of a Subway sandwich shop in Londonderry. She is under investigation for the robbery of a sandwich shop and a convenience store in Manchester, as well, but no charges had been filed as of Saturday in those incidents.

At her arraignment last week, Richards pleaded with the judge to lower her bail from the $50,000 cash requested by the prosecution. Richards told the judge she has a drug problem.

“I just want to get out, please,” Richards begged the judge.

Judge John Coughlin was unmoved and approved the prosecution’s request. Coughlin in reviewing the charges noted that Richards had told a store clerk in East Derry that she would shoot her “or worse” if she attempted to follow.

In each of the robberies, witnesses said the suspect claimed to have a gun, but no weapon was ever shown.

In the Merrimack Valley, a gun has been shown in a string of bank robberies. The FBI and local police are looking for a man they believe is responsible for nine or 10 bank holdups since February. Police say the suspect, dubbed the “Merrimack Valley Bandit,” most recently robbed a TD Bank in Dracut for the second time. He is also a suspect in a convenience store robbery.

Police say the suspect is estimated to be between 18 and 24 years old, between 5-feet, 6-inches to 5-feet, 8-inches tall, with a stocky build and thin eyebrows. In each of the robberies, he was similarly dressed wearing a hooded sweatshirt with his face partially concealed.

The FBI says that in each of the robberies but one, the suspect has pointed a small handgun at tellers and demanded money.

Police say the suspect is responsible for the robbery of three banks in Methuen, two in Lawrence, the same bank twice in Dracut, one in Tewksbury and one in Groveland. A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest.

The suspect’s willingness to point a gun at tellers in his robberies makes him particularly dangerous. Even when bank employees cooperate with his demands, there is a great risk that someone could be shot if he is startled or if the heists do not unfold as he has planned. Police say he has gotten more aggressive with each robbery.

Anyone with information regarding the robberies should call the FBI at 617-742-5533, Lawrence Police at 978-794-5900, Methuen Police at 978-983-8698, Dracut Police at 978-957-2123 or Groveland Police at 978-521-1212.

Whether the motive for these crimes involves feeding drug habits or mere greed, it is clear that there are desperate people out there who have little concern for anyone but themselves.

We urge readers to be vigilant as they go about their daily business.