Twice within the last month, the manager of the Super Pride Market in Randallstown has had a shotgun pointed at her face by two men who made her turn over cash from the store safe.
"All I saw was the shotgun," reports the woman, 44, who said she doesn't know whether the same robbers struck both times.
The woman said she tried to hide in her office during both robberies, one on Jan. 19 and the other last Friday. But the robbers kicked in the wooden office door and forced her to open the safe.
Since the latest robbery, in which the men stole $5,100, Super Pride has installed a stronger, steel office door. Also, Baltimore County police have arrested one man and charged him in the Feb. 15 holdup.
But the grocery manager said she remains fearful because a string of similar shotgun robberies of groceries and restaurants, starting last fall in the county and city, have continued this week.
The robberies now number 17. The same group of men may have committed them, police said. Although no one has been hurt, shots have been fired when victims have hesitated to comply.
"These are some bad guys," the manager said. "These kind of people, they're liable to do anything. It's scary.
"We have a security guard, but what are you going to do when they come in and put the shotgun on him?" she asked.
Police advise anyone caught in such a situation to remain calm and comply with the demands.
"We don't want any heroes," county police Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger said.
Police cited a December 1988 shotgun robbery at a Catonsville tavern in which three people were killed. The robbers killed one man who went for their gun, then killed two others at the Ingleside Cafe who were witnesses to the slaying.
"You only need one person to start something like that," Doarnberger said. "And, once the shooting starts, you never know how many victims there'll be."
He pointed out that, although the robberies are similar, evidence linking them isn't conclusive.
"I can't say that they're related," Doarnberger said. "But I can't say they're not, either."
In each case, one or more of the suspects were carrying a shotgun. Doarnberger said county police have grouped them into three categories, based on similarities.
The first string of robberies, which were committed between Halloween and Jan. 6, involved one to three suspects, were aimed mainly at fast-food restaurants and happened either late at night or early in the morning. The robbers in all those cases wore ski masks.
The second category involved only two robbers, one or both carrying a shotgun, but no ski masks, Doarnberger said. Those began Jan. 19 and may have continued with the robbery Tuesday of the Basics food store in Govans.
In the other category, groups of four young men, at least one carrying a shotgun, have robbed the Super Pride Market, the Basics Food Center in Randallstown and a restaurant in Timonium.
Some 27 customers of Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant in Timonium were ordered to the floor and robbed of cash and jewelry on Valentine's Day. Witnesses said they saw the robbers head south on Interstate 83 in a compact car.
In the case of Chi-Chi's, each of the four robbers wore a three-quarter length olive drab trench coat. In the Feb. 15 Super Pride robbery, the robbers were described as wearing three-quarter length black coats.
Four robbers also struck the Super Fresh store in Waverly on Tuesday.