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Armed Robbers Prowl Fan Area



The suspects: two black males possibly between the ages of 20 and 30 who wear ski masks and dark clothes. They carry guns and rarely speak, instead motioning their victims to hand over wallets and purses. They drive a silver four-door Honda or a gold Toyota. And so far, they have eluded police.

Citywide, robberies are up, according to the most recent figures provided by Richmond Police. For the years 2000 and 2001, robberies increased 26 percent, from 1,075 in 2000 to 1,356 in 2001. In the 3rd precinct, which includes the Museum and Fan districts, robberies increased nearly 30 percent in the same period, from 376 to 488.

As for the men behind the most recent armed-robbery spree, officers are on the alert to catch them, a police spokeswoman says. On May 1 the department plans to launch a five-week blitz to curb crime in the Fan area, especially drug offenses and robberies.

So why haven't the robbers been caught? And why haven't residents been told about the spate of potentially violent crime in their neighborhoods?

This is what Erica Vaden would like to know.

"I had a long silver-barreled gun pointed to my face," recalls Vaden, who is five months pregnant. "One of them backed me up to my gate and I kept saying 'Please don't shoot me.' Then I heard my husband screaming and the other one had him down on the ground with a gun to his head." Vaden says she and her husband thought they could die.

Vaden says that at least five neighbors heard their distress and called for help. But it took police nearly 15 minutes to arrive at the scene, she says. By then the criminals were long gone, with $70 in cash.

Erica Vaden wonders why it took police so long considering the flurry of area robberies. She says the officer handling their case pointed out that police were targeting the suspects. But that's of little comfort, she says. "I saw my life flash before my eyes."

The culprits made off with Vaden's purse. It held the keys to her car and her home — and the robbers know where the Vadens live.

From now on, she says, she and her husband will do things differently. "There was nothing we could do," she says. "We were totally vulnerable." She feels the kind of fear that casts a dark shadow on an otherwise peaceful neighborhood, she says: "Somebody needs to do something before somebody gets really hurt or killed." — BRANDON WALTERS

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