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Brazen robbery of $60,000 Rolex in 99 Ranch parking lot shocks Asian Americans

Early Monday morning, Mario Hernandez scrubbed the blood stains left over from a weekend robbery and pistol-whipping
Mario Hernandez scrubbed blood stains left from an armed robbery and pistol-whipping in a Rowland Heights shopping plaza. Two suspects escaped with a victim’s $60,000 Rolex.
(Anh Do / Los Angeles Times)

A man and woman were loading groceries into their car Saturday after shopping at 99 Ranch Market in Rowland Heights when two strangers approached.

The woman screamed as the strangers pistol-whipped them before fleeing with the man’s $60,000 Rolex.

A video of the attack and its aftermath, capturing the woman’s terror and the pair squatting in the parking lot as she tried to stanch the bleeding from her companion’s head, quickly spread through the local Chinese community.

Robberies of expensive watches, snatched from victims’ wrists as they dine, walk or shop, have become a trend in Los Angeles.

L.A. gangs are sending out crews to prey on the mega-rich, targeting people leaving luxury boutiques, restaurants, and nightclubs, the LAPD said.

But few thought it would happen on a quiet afternoon in this prosperous, majority-Asian section of the east San Gabriel Valley.

For a community already reeling from anti-Asian hate attacks and a shooting at a Taiwanese church in Orange County, the brazen crime further eroded a fragile sense of security.

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At the 99 Ranch plaza Monday morning, a worker rinsed blood off the spot in the parking lot where the attack took place.

Early-bird shoppers were stocking up on Asian staples at the popular supermarket, in a plaza that includes Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, northern Chinese and Cantonese restaurants.

Yu Lee, who shops for fresh fish and produce at 99 Ranch twice a week with her husband, said she is “very nervous” about crime.

“More and more things are happening. I dress in normal clothes when I go out,” said Lee, an immigrant from Hong Kong. “The good stuff, whatever I have that I want to keep, is at home.”

For much of the weekend, the video of the attack lit up WeChat, a social networking service used by many Chinese Americans.

“It was so, so scary,” said Connie Jiang, who was born in Beijing, recounting how she felt after viewing the video.

Jiang, who on Monday morning was stationed at the front desk of a communications service store in the plaza, was not at work when the attack took place. But watching the footage, “the sounds of the screaming seemed so close to me,” she said.

When she leaves the shop, she tries to go with a coworker and is thinking about carrying pepper spray.

In the area patrolled by the Walnut/Diamond Bar Sheriff’s Station, which includes Rowland Heights, robberies decreased for the first five months of the year, compared with the same period in 2021, while burglaries increased.

Capt. Steven Tousey, who heads the station, called Saturday’s armed robbery “a crime of opportunity.”

Investigators believe the suspects, described as two men ages 25 to 30, wearing black hoodies and gray sweatpants, armed with handguns, were not from the Rowland Heights area. The pair fled in a white Dodge Challenger, Tousey said.

The victims — a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s — suffered minor injuries and did not go to the hospital, according to Tousey.

“When you live in an upscale area, people know they can possibly find nice things there,” he said. “That’s why people go there.”

Before the pandemic, Tousey said, there was a rash of purse robberies at Asian business centers as shoppers unloaded their purchases.

“They would put their purse in the passenger seat, someone would pull up alongside their car, grab it and run — but nothing like this robbery,” he said.

John Hsu, president of the Together Against Crime Foundation, said he had told the plaza’s owner and the 99 Ranch Market company to beef up security even before Saturday’s attack.

Officials at 99 Ranch Market did not respond to a request for comment.

Hsu founded his Rowland Heights-based nonprofit last year to address public safety in the Asian American community. He said the group is pushing people to write to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department, calling for stronger law enforcement in Rowland Heights. He has seen a spike in residents’ interest in public safety issues after Saturday.

“It’s a wakeup call,” he said. “If we don’t do something, it’s just going to deteriorate and affect your housing prices, affect your kids [and] their future.”

Shoppers at the plaza Monday morning had many questions. Why did no one step in? Why was there no security presence outside the store? Some also wondered why anyone would wear such an expensive watch to go grocery shopping.

“You just go to the store. It’s not party time. You don’t need fancy shoes, expensive pants,” said shopper Simon Yang.

Yang, who was born in Taiwan, thinks many of his fellow immigrants are obsessed with status symbols and “showing off.” As he rolled his cart filled with fresh baked sesame pancakes and dried noodle bowls toward an exit at 99 Ranch, Yang pointed to his own faded jeans, topped with a plaid shirt.

“Just take it easy,” he urged. “Nobody needs a watch now. We all use our iPhone.”

But James Wang, a Taiwanese American attorney whose photo looms from billboards in the San Gabriel Valley, questioned whether anyone would have expected to get robbed at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday in a busy parking lot.

“It’s easy to blame somebody on the one hand for being flashy,” he said. “But even in very affluent neighborhoods, do we just not go on with our lives and not enjoy the fruits of our labor?”


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