Smash-and-grab looters hit stores across the country over the busy Thanksgiving holiday, leaving one California security guard dead and thousands in merchandise gone.
"We tried to stop them," Home Depot employee Luis Romo said about a "flash mob" targeting the store in Lakewood, California, on Black Friday. "We closed the front entrance and they put their sledgehammers up and whoever got in the way, they were going to hurt them."
The group of eight robbers stole hammers, crowbars, and other tools which have been used in the rash of smash-and-grab robberies sweeping the state.
Cars were waiting in the parking lot for the thieves who fled the scene. Later that night, police stopped a car without plates and detained four individuals possibly involved with the robbery.
A group of five suspects took about $25,000 worth of expensive purses from a Nordstrom store in the Westfield Topanga mall in Los Angeles on the eve of Thanksgiving. A large group also entered a Bottega Veneta in Los Angeles on Friday and used a chemical agent against one person who tried to stop them as they stole high-end merchandise.
By late Friday evening, the Los Angeles Police Department had issued a citywide tactical alert that has since been lifted.
In Monterey, a group of about four people stole an estimated $30,000 worth of sunglasses from a Sunglass Hut. In San Francisco, thieves ranging in age from 14-18 stole more than $20,000 from an Apple store in broad daylight on Wednesday.
The crimes have spread to other areas of the country, including Chicago where thieves threw a cinder block through a Canada Goose store between midnight and 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving then robbed the store. Three other smash-and-grabs took place in the city as thieves targeted a Foot Locker, a North Face store, and a cell phone store.
It is unclear whether the robberies are related or how much merchandise was stolen as Chicago police continue their investigation.
In suburban Minneapolis, a group of no less than 30 people robbed a Best Buy in Burnsville, while a group of 10-12 people, including juveniles, targeted another Best Buy in Maplewood. As of Saturday, no arrest had been made and it’s not known yet how much merchandise was stolen.
"Across the board, retailers are getting more concerned with this growing trend. … It is definitely a tough problem to solve, given the organized nature and number of people involved in many of the incidents," Chris Walton, a former Target executive who co-leads retail blog and podcast Omni Talk, said.
The most terrifying robbery took place in California when an Oakland security guard was fatally shot during an armed robbery while protecting a news crew that was covering an earlier smash-and-grab theft.
"It is with the deepest sadness that I let you know security guard Kevin Nishita has passed away," said Mark Neerman, vice president of news and news director at KPIX. "He died protecting one of our own, a colleague reporting on the very violence that took his life. I know you join me in sending condolences to his family and in sending thanks to Kevin for standing up for us all."
Nishita was shot in the abdomen during an attempted robbery of KRON-TV’s camera equipment on Wednesday and later succumbed to his injuries.
Nishita was a San Jose police officer from 2001-2012 and was working as an armed guard for Star Protection Agency at the time of his death. He leaves behind his wife, two children and three grandchildren. A reward of $32,500 is being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the killing.
We mourn the loss of retired police officer Kevin Nishita who honorably served our Bay Area Community. He was protecting/guarding a local news crew when he was senselessly murdered. Today, we escorted his body from the hospital with full law enforcement honors. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ZbKRn7J732
— Alameda County Sheriff (@ACSOSheriffs) November 27, 2021
In Walnut Creek, which is located about 25 miles from SF, roughly 80 looters stormed a Nordstrom and took somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000 in merchandise, according to police.
Mobs of thieves ransacked at least two dozen San Francisco area businesses over last weekend.
"At least two dozen businesses were impacted," Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said. "Roving caravans of vehicles, targeting cannabis operations, retail shops, pharmacies, throughout the city of Oakland."
The crimes also extended to San Jose, about 50 miles from San Francisco, where at least four people stole $40,000 from a Lululemon in an incident described by police as "organized robbery."
Gov. Gavin Newsom has called on California mayors to "step up" and hold the mobs of shoplifters to "account" following the repeated crimes.
"I'm not the mayor of California, but I was a mayor, and I know when things like this happen, mayors have to step up," Newsom said Monday at a vaccine clinic in the Mission District of San Francisco. "That’s not an indictment. That’s not a cheap shot."
"These people need to be held to account," Newsom added. "We need to investigate these crimes. We need to break up these crime rings. We need to make an example out of these folks.
"I think what happens now is there's no accountability for it anymore, and the liability for the stores if they try to apprehend these guys. They just stand by and watch," Steve Reed, a retired police officer and the former head of security at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.