AP NEWS

Santa Fe schools leader thwarts would-be robbers

December 13, 2018 GMT

A pair of men — one of whom was armed with a large metal pipe — accosted Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García and tried to rob her in the parking lot of her condominium complex.

But García’s quick thinking foiled the crime Thursday. She attributed her escape to her decades-old training as a special education teacher working with emotionally disturbed and violent youth.

“I learned to de-escalate those kinds of situations because I know that when people are agitated, they’re more likely to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t,” García said in an interview.

“So in order to calm them down, I felt like it was important to de-escalate by making it clear that it was my intent to comply. I was very calm, very deliberate,” she said.

García’s strategy worked.

García, 68, tricked the robbers into believing she was going to get her purse out of her car. But she quickly slipped into the car instead and locked the door, prompting the robbers to flee.

The crime, which García called frightening, happened when she arrived at her condo in south-central Santa Fe about 7 p.m. after she gave a lecture as the Santa Fe Higher Education Center.

After she pulled into her designated parking spot, García said, she opened the trunk of her car to retrieve a reusable shopping bag to carry her computer and paperwork.

“It was snowing,” she said. “I didn’t want that to get wet.”

When she stepped out of her car, García said she was approached by two males.

“I thought they were lost,” she said, adding that she couldn’t hear what they were saying initially.

“Then they made it clear that they wanted my purse,” she said. “I had to get my head around the fact that they weren’t asking for directions, that I was in danger.”

García told police that one of the robbers carried a metal pipe about 3 feet long and an inch and a half in diameter.

“Give me your purse,” he demanded.

“Give him your purse, ma’am,” his accomplice told García.

She told them she would give them her purse but that it was in her car.

“Ms. García told me she was scared to turn her back to the male [carrying the metal pipe] because she felt like the male was going to hit her with the pipe,” a police report states. “Ms. García then walked to the driver’s side door of her vehicle, quickly got in and locked the door. Ms. García told me all she could think about was creating a barrier between her and the male with the pipe.”

García said everything happened quickly.

“As we were talking, I guess I was making my way closer to the car door,” she said. “I really can’t tell you because it happened so fast, but I did say twice, in different ways, ‘I’m going to give you my purse.’ In a calm way, ‘You’re going to get my purse.’ I wanted to make it very clear that that was going to happen, and I just took my opening to get in the car and immediately lock the door.”

Once García was in the vehicle, she turned on the engine and activated the hazard lights. She also began honking her horn and backed out of the parking space, police said.

That’s when the robbers ran away.

García said she probably would’ve given up her purse had she had it when the robbers approached her.

“I think every situation is unique,” she said. “For me to get my purse, I would have had to turn my back on someone with a weapon. My instincts told me that would not be a safe thing to do.… As much as a person can remain calm and try to use common sense, I don’t think there’s any one strategy that’s going to work in every situation.”

But García said it’s important to have a plan and “an idea in place of how to respond,” which points back to the importance of training to evade shooters and other dangerous situations in the school district.

“The more these things are automatic — heaven forbid you’re ever in a situation — your response is fairly automatic,” she said.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.