Bomb Threat Kept Them Confined, a Hostage Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Terror. Confusion. Anger.

Theresa Ahmadi, a Bank of America employee, said she and 28 other hostages knew all those emotions during the holdup and seven-hour confinement in a Placentia bank branch on New Year's Eve.

"I was very nervous at the beginning," she said Wednesday during an interview at her apartment here. "You just don't know what is going to happen. I've been in the bank before when there was a robbery, but I've never before been in a takeover situation."

Ahmadi, 29, was among the bank employees and customers who were held captive at the Bank of America branch on Yorba Linda Boulevard at Kraemer Boulevard.

The robber, Jaime Sabogal, fled with two hostages, but he left the remaining bank employees and customers in a back room, telling them an explosive device would go off if they tried to leave.

Ahmadi said she did not see the gunman come into the bank. She said her first clue that something was amiss came when she noticed that other employees seemed to be closing up 45 minutes early Tuesday afternoon.

"We weren't supposed to close until 4 p.m.," she said. "I was wondering why we were closing so early, and I walked over to that back room (in the bank branch). When I walked into the room, I saw a gun in that man's hand, and he said it was a holdup. And so I sat down. There were like four or five other people in that room. And after about a half-hour, the rest of the employees and customers were brought into that room."

The robber took control of the branch calmly and efficiently, Ahmadi said.

"He didn't wave the gun," she said. "He was very calm and cool about the whole thing. I think he knew what he was doing."

According to police, Sabogal left a briefcase at the door of the room where the bank employees and customers were being held. Ahmadi and other hostages said they were told it was a bomb.

"The robber said it was supposed to go off at 5 p.m., but that he was going to tell police how to defuse it," Ahmadi said. "He left it right outside the room we were all being kept in--right outside the door. That's why that room. . . .

"It was hot in there because the doors were closed. And people were getting uncomfortable. Some had to go to the bathroom, and some were hungry. And people kept wondering why it was taking so long (for the ordeal to end)."

She said that while "overall, everybody was pretty calm," there was an exception--a male customer who she said behaved erratically.

"That customer guy was being a crazy person," Ahmadi said. "We tried to get him to relax, but he said he wanted to call this person and get out to the front (of the bank). He said we were stupid for sitting there."

Police said that the actions of that customer, later identified as Robert Charles Gregory, had caused them to suspect he might be involved in the robbery. They thus delayed attempting to enter the branch.

"That's why everybody (in the hostage room) was mad at him," she said. "I don't care what anyone says, the police did an excellent job. They had procedures to follow. They couldn't just walk into that bank, not knowing what was happening."

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