Attempted mall robbery thwarted

One suspect jailed, two at large in Lone Tree incident

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Lone Tree police said they teamed up with mall security officials March 30 to thwart an attempted robbery at Park Meadows shopping center. A woman was arrested, and two male suspects, one of whom apparently had been carrying a stolen handgun, still are being sought.

Bernadette Irene Vargas, 51, of Edgewater, was arrested on six charges and booked into the Douglas County jail.

While shoplifting is common at malls nationwide, robberies — especially those involving a weapon — are unusual.

“We don’t have a problem with robberies at the mall,” Lone Tree Police Chief Jeff Streeter said. “(This is) the one report since January 2012 in which a weapon was used. It’s very rare.”

The incident started about 6:40 p.m. at the JC Penney store, when a store loss-prevention officer confronted the trio for allegedly taking about $300 of cologne. One of the men reportedly lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun, and threatened the security officer. Vargas reportedly then threw a bag of stolen merchandise at the security officer and the three suspects ran out of the mall.

The security officer and Lone Tree police officer Dennis Boos, who is stationed at the department’s Park Meadows substation, caught up to two of the three fleeing suspects in the parking lot. Boos pulled his gun and ordered them to stop. The man complied, but though Vargas stopped, she reportedly started cursing, yelling ‘Shoot me,’ and walking around the man before running off into the parking lot.

The security officer caught up to her and wrestled Vargas to the ground. She allegedly cursed and attempted to kick Boos when he handcuffed her.

Police later found a loaded handgun under a nearby car in the mall parking lot. The gun had been reported stolen to Thornton police.

Authorities who searched Vargas at the jail reportedly found she was wearing underwear with Victoria’s Secret tags still attached to them.

Vargas was charged with aggravated robbery, menacing with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, attempted second-degree assault, theft and disorderly conduct.

Though the incident started as a shoplifting, the suspects’ use of threats, force or intimidation elevates it to a robbery, Streeter said.

Streeter praised Boos’ calm response during the tense, at-times chaotic series of events.

“They relied on their training,” he said. “The officer assessed it properly and we were able to take someone into custody, with no injuries to anybody.”

Malls and large shopping centers are frequent targets for shoplifters, many of whom are professionals and some of whom are part of national, organized shoplifting rings.