Couple Held in Mall Gunpoint Robberies : Three Little Girls Found in Car When Suspects Were Arrested

Times Staff Writer

A South Gate couple arrested with three little girls in the back seat of their car have been identified as suspects in three gunpoint robberies in South Coast Plaza's parking lots.

Lt. Richard Johnson said that Felicia Garcia, 23, and Maurice Johnson, 22, are suspects in two armed robberies at the Costa Mesa mall Thursday night and another robbery at South Coast Plaza on April 7. An Anaheim police spokesman said they are also possible suspects in two similar robberies Wednesday at an Anaheim shopping mall.

"We're thinking these folks were capering throughout Orange County," Johnson said.

In two of the robberies, women suffered minor injuries when a male bandit struck his middle-aged victims across the face with a small-caliber handgun before fleeing with a purse and jewelry, police said.

Police called the string of robberies unusual because several of the victims reported seeing a pre-school child in the back of the getaway car. When Garcia and Johnson were arrested Thursday evening, police found Johnson's three daughters, ages 6 months, 3 years and 4 years, in the back seat.

"The kids were with them nearly every time," said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Leslie Harrison. Another officer added, "I guess the couple didn't have a baby sitter."

The youngsters were taken to Orange County's Orangewood shelter for children.

The couple were arrested Thursday night after victims in two robberies were able to describe a blue Honda with no license that allegedly served as the getaway car. Minutes later, Costa Mesa Officer Clay Epperson saw the car on the San Diego Freeway, followed it north through heavy traffic to Beach Boulevard and arrested Garcia and Johnson, Lt. Johnson said. Police also recovered about $1,500 in cash and jewelry from the car, the lieutenant said.

In each of the robberies, the methods were similar, police said: A man accosted middle-age shoppers, demanded purses and jewelry, then fled in a car driven by a woman.

Thursday's robberies followed the same pattern. At about 6:15 p.m. a Costa Mesa woman was accosted in the Bullock's parking structure by a man with a handgun who took $500 in cash and jewelry.

A few minutes later near the Saks Fifth Avenue parking lot, a man with a handgun accosted a Fountain Valley woman and took $1,000 in cash and jewelry, Johnson said.

But unlike previous incidents, both victims were able to describe the getaway car and Officer Epperson followed it on the freeway.

Garcia was being held in the Orange County Jail Friday; Maurice Johnson was being held at the Costa Mesa jail. Bail for both suspects was set at $50,000.

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