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Air Force officer who tackled robber in video says he just reacted

Jan. 23, 2014 - 04:46PM   |  
RAW VIDEO: Airman stops thief at TJ Maxx
RAW VIDEO: Airman stops thief at TJ Maxx: Police have credited an active-duty airman with stopping a would-be robber from making off with nearly $26,000 worth of watches at a TJ Maxx store in Evesham, N.J., Sunday evening. (video released by the Evesham Police Department)
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An Air Force officer whose tackling of a would-be robber is captured on surveillance video that’s gone viral says he reacted before he had time to think.

The officer, who agreed to speak to Air Force Times on the condition his name not be used, said he was waiting for his wife on a bench outside a dressing room at T.J. Maxx in Evesham, N.J., Sunday evening when one of the employees said the store was being robbed. A masked man in dark clothes and a ski mask had thrown a large rock through a glass jewelry case.

What happened next is caught on store video released by the Evesham police department. News outlets from New York to Florida and Indiana picked up the story. The video has been shown online and on TV and talked about on the radio.

The officer, stationed at Joint Base McGuire Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, said he got up and walked toward the jewelry counter to get a good description of the thief for police.

“As soon as he took off running, it just happened. My intent was not, ‘I’m going to take down this robber.’ He took off and I just reacted,” the officer said.

The video captures the officer, who is in civilian clothes, sprinting toward the masked man and tackling him to the ground. The officer guesses he intended to restrain the man. When they fell to the floor, they rolled into a small display rack.

“I got my arm around his head. That’s when he tried to get up and his mask came off,” the airman said. The officer got a quick glimpse of the suspect’s face before the man took off — leaving behind a bag full of watches police said was worth some $26,000.

“I kind of thought I should chase him, but he ran outside, and I thought, ‘I’m just going to leave it at that.’ ” the officer said.

Police arrived within minutes, he said.

The officer has served in the Air Force for about five years. He didn’t want his name used because Evesham police haven’t made an arrest in the case, and the airman said he doesn’t want to risk retaliation from the robber.

“I fully understand — and the police have said this — that was not the smartest thing to do, especially when it’s just property at risk,” he said. “You always wonder how you would react in a situation like that. I think it’s almost something you can’t [anticipate]. Honestly, if the guy pulled out a weapon and shot me and someone else, they would call it heroic but also idiotic.”

The airman’s wife, meanwhile, didn’t know what had happened. He returned to the dressing room area to wait for her after it was over.She overheard an employee ask her husband if he needed water and figured he’d gotten lightheaded.

He told his wife to finish trying on her clothes. “When she came out, the employees swarmed her and told her what happened,” he said.

The airman gave his statement to police, who told him that was all they needed. On Tuesday, police told him they were putting out a news release about the incident and the 42-second surveillance video that caught the scuffle. He agreed to let the police identify him as a member of the Air Force “to maybe shed some positive light on the military,” he said.

Watching the video, the airman said, was kind of nerve-racking.

“I don’t know, if I could play it over, if I could make the same call,” he said. “I don’t necessarily regret the decision. ... If people aren’t to intervene, what’s to stop them [criminals] from doing it at the next place? What’s the deterrent?”

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