COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Columbia police solved a string of armed robberies after they arrested five young people.
It all began on Dec. 6. when video shows a 17-year-old masked man rushing into the Sky Mart on Santa Fe Pike.
The teen’s hand is in his pocket when he allegedly handed a note to the clerk that read, “Give me all the money and nobody gets shot.”
On Jan. 13 the same store was robbed a second time but by a second suspect. Police said in this particular incident, 19-year-old James Heard is seen approaching the clerk with his hand in his pocket and demanding all the money.
“Give me the money now! All of it! Right now! Lift up the thing right now,” he is heard yelling to the clerk on surveillance video.
Using social media and pulling all police resources, Columbia police arrested both suspects last week.
“We pulled out our narcotics and vice unit, our gang intel unit, and all our patrol officers,” Lt. Joey Gideon said. “We got information from everyone.”
Now charged with aggravated robbery, Heard spoke to News 2 from jail where he admitted to the crime and said he needed money.
“It was dumb of me to do it,” he said. “I am sorry and I regret it. Jail is not a place for me, but God has a plan for me. I have to learn and change my lesson.”
Heard also offered an apology to the store clerk, saying, “I would say I am sorry. I regret doing it and sorry if I put your life in danger. I’m sorry.”
On Jan. 15, a third robbery occurred in Columbia, but police said they are unconnected to the previous two.
Video shows two young men bumping into each other while entering the Trottwood BP station.
Once inside, 20-year-old Ernest King was seen walking to the back of the store as 18-year-old Austin Cathey pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and shoved it in the clerk’s face.
Cathey takes some money and leaves. Seconds later, King approaches the scared clerk before leaving.
“His play was to play the witness, to be back up and play the witness,” Lt. Gideon said. “At first he tried to tell me he was a witness, and after being confronted with just a little bit of the evidence we had, he admitted that they went in there and robbed it together.”
King was charged with aggravated robbery.
Columbia police told News 2 evidence indicates King was working with Cathey and he was only pretending to be a witness to the crime. According to police, the two men know each other and there’s evidence that connects both of them to the crime.
According to Lt. Gideon, King never tried to call the cops or offer help. King, however, said the cops have it all wrong.
From jail, he told News 2, “I told the man, ‘Are you alright? Call the police.’ Check the audio. You’ll hear me say, ‘You alright? Call the police.’ He is still there with his hands up shaking. No, no, and that’s when I left out the store and when the alarm went off, I went out the store.”
He also explained, “If I was going to rob a store, I wouldn’t have gone in there with no mask on anyway. If I asked him to do it, I’d have gone up there and got the money myself. When I seen that, I froze up in the store. I’m like, h*** no, I’ve got a child. That is not my thing. I don’t rob. I did that when I was 16. I do understand that they got me, if it was anything it would be assisting, or accessory after the fact if anything, but as far as them trying to charge me with something that I didn’t do – that is slandering my name for nothing.”
Columbia police said they cracked the robberies in large part to the community and tips that came in via social media.
“We take robberies very seriously,” Lt. Gideon said. “Robberies are one of the most violent crimes.”
The silver semi-automatic used in the robbery has yet to be recovered. Anyone with information is urged to call Columbia police at 931-381-4900.
Police added a 13-year-old was also arrested in the case. According to police, he was used as a scout in advance of the robbery.