IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was A Teller In A Bank Robbery

The robber slowly pushed the note across my teller station counter- I’ve never seen the F-bomb scribbled so angrily before.
Publish date:
July 23, 2015
IHTM, crime, memoir, bank robbing

It happened again, the Internet crashed. I banged my head down on the computer desk and left it there. I needed to get online immediately and there was only one solution. I would have to go to the Library. As in the physical place where physical people work and you are physically expected to return the checked out items in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, there were only a few hours left before I had to head into work and there was no time left for wishful thinking. My report was due the next day and I needed to go to library before I headed into work to get the journals that I needed.

Twenty minutes later, I plopped down my books on the counter in front of the librarian for checkout. The librarian was a young, dark haired girl who was likely a local college student.

Without saying a word, the librarian looked me dead in the eyes and slipped me a note. I looked down at the note and before even reading it, my mind immediately considered the terrible scenarios that the note could relay.

“Call 911! I’m being held at gunpoint!”

“Help me! I’m paralyzed and I need to go to the hospital!”

Or, maybe this was just like in middle school where it was simply a gossip note.

“The library is lame- circle yes or no”.

What the note actually said was:

Hello. I’m sorry, but I have strep throat and cannot talk. I can only communicate via writing. I apologize for the inconvenience. Thanks for understanding.

How silly of me to assume that the library was under some kind of attack or that this girl whom I had never met before would want to partake in the ancient art of gossip note passing with me.

I grabbed my journals and headed to work.

It was Sunday and I worked at the only bank in the US that was open on a Sunday. I was the Weekend Supervisor, a title which irate customers would tell me was a "second string position."

When I arrived, one of my tellers was already in the bank trying to open the main vault, which looked like it belonged on the hub of a submarine. Sometimes the combos for the door worked, sometimes they didn’t. It depended if you had the magic touch that day or not.

This day, we did not have the magic touch.

The 16-year-old teller, Lacey, sat in a chair in front of the submarine door, biting the sheet of codes between her teeth while trying to get the combos to work. Fortunately, I had a spare teller box with money in a smaller vault in the back room.

So, I pulled out my drawer while Lacey struggled with the combos to get her money box out of the vault.

Twenty minutes after opening the bank, I helped the first customer that walked in. He was a tall, thin man with a blue baseball cap. As soon as he walked up to my counter, he slowly slid a note across my teller station counter.

Having received a harmless, silly note just earlier that day, my initial reaction was simply -- Oh, this guy must have strep throat too!

I smiled and took the note without hesitation.

But then…

The first thing that I noticed was the word “FUCKING” angrily scribbled on the sheet of paper multiple times.

My eyes seemed to blur and I struggled to bring them to focus. One half of my mind was rapidly trying to figure out why on earth this note would be covered in angrily scribbled swear words while the other half was actively trying read the note.

Everything began to move in slow motion as I carefully read over every word in the note:


OK, this guy definitely did not have strep throat.

The possible scenarios that ran through my mind next were even more ridiculous than thinking this shady looking character in front of me had strep throat.

My first thought: What if this guy is a secret shopper and I am being graded on my response to a robbery? Those sick fucks-up at corporate. I am definitely going to write a formal complaint if this is a test.

My second thought: What if I didn’t count out exactly $5,000? Would he kill me?

My third thought: Was this a game like you see in horror movies? Was he more interested in testing me than in the money?

Clearly, the robber had chosen the wrong person to rob. I was an introvert who over-analyzed everything. And at this point, I had been standing there for five minutes just staring at the note.

We had been taught in our security training class to count out money during a robbery starting with our small bills first. Being currently robbed, I realized how ridiculous it would be to count out singles in front of the robber first. That just felt like a sure way to get shot in the face.

I picked up the hundreds and began to count.

Then lost count because I was nervous.

I started recounting again.

I lost count.

I started recounting again.

I stood there for what I’m sure both he and I felt like an eternity, recounting the small amount of hundreds in my hand, trying to make sure my count was accurate. This was vitally important because my 2 and 3 possible scenarios of what was happening depended on me giving exactly $5,000 to ensure my survival.

I lost count again.

Finally, I put the stack of $600 in hundreds on the counter.

At that moment, I remembered in our training that we should throw the note on the floor so it could be used as evidence later. Again, this was a great plan to get myself shot in the face. I picked up a stack of 50 dollar bills and began the slow process of counting again.

Clearly annoyed, the robber murmured, “Give me the money on the counter and the note.”

I hesitated for a moment.

My over-analyzation kicked in again. Technically, the money in my hand was not on the counter. And the robber specifically asked for the money on the counter.

I was confused by his rules. And I wasn’t sure how strict he was about his rules.

So, I put the $550 in 50 dollar bills that was still in my hand back in my teller drawer.

The robber slapped his hand on my counter and ran out the door with the $600. I had $22,000 in my drawer.

As soon as the robber turned his back, I reached my hand under the counter to set off the alarm.

There are two reasons I did not set off the alarm until this point. First, we had been trained not to sound the alarm until the robber had left the bank because it may cause a hostage situation.

Second, the alarm was set way back under each teller counter. It was set that far back because tellers were constantly setting off alarms by accident when the buttons were set in a closer, more convenient location. So, there was no discreet or nonchalant way to set off the alarm while I was being robbed.

Within two minutes, I heard a knock on the glass door of the bank. A police officer who routinely came into the bank during his shift to gossip and get free lollipops was pressed up against the door with his hands cupped around his eyes like binoculars.

“Did you all accidentally hit the alarm again?”

“No! We got robbed!”

“Oh. Right.” The officer immediately straightened up and put his game face on. We opened the door as he called the robbery in over his radio.

As soon as backup arrived, I was scooted away to the police station. While being interviewed in a small, white brick room, I was asked if I actually saw a gun on the robber.


“So, why did you give him the money?”

“Listen, I didn’t need to see a gun. That note could have said "Give me the money or I’ll slap you" and I would’ve given him the money.”

I then spent six hours working with an artist on a composite sketch that looked nothing like the robber. A week later, the same man robbed a bank down the street. And that bank’s cameras didn’t make the robbery look like a Bigfoot sighting, so the robber was caught within days.

After the robbery, I revisited the scenario again and again in my mind. Mostly, I thought about what I could have done differently to be the hero of the day. It didn’t help that arrogant customers who read about the robbery in the papers felt the need to tell me about all the heroic ways they would’ve handled the situation.

Apparently, if anyone other than me was robbed, than the robber would’ve been beaten and subdued in 50 different ways.

But the biggest impact of the robbery is the way that I now reluctantly handle any notes like they are laced with anthrax, because I learned the hard way to err on the side of caution.