What can you do in 32 seconds? According to Mashable, in 30-seconds or less, you can send a tweet, tell yourself an affirmation, go for a walk around your office, text your mom, or pay a bill.
32 seconds. That’s all it took to change my life forever.
Some people may not understand why or how one small amount of time can impact someone’s life so completely. But I will never be able to forget those 32 seconds, or the years of hardship that resulted from that moment.
I was working as Lead Teller at a bank in a small town in Indiana. I worked for the bank for 3 years, but had just been promoted to Lead and transferred to a new branch a month prior to this particular Friday morning in October, one week before Halloween.
The future was looking bright for me. I had recently graduated college and was planning to work my way up the chain at this bank with the hopes of being transferred to a branch in South Carolina. I had plenty of money in the bank and I was working toward paying off the debt I had accumulated during college.
People assume that anyone working at a bank is always on guard against a bank robbery. However, the branch I worked for had been around for 51 years and never had a robbery, not even a note passer. There were no major highways nearby for an easy escape, and the police station is in the same parking lot as the bank. I felt pretty secure that nothing terrible would happen. We were a low-risk branch, meaning we had no glass barriers, no double entry door, no dye-pack in our money drawer, and no security guard.
The day started out like any other Friday. I was grumbling about having to get up so early in the morning and drive to work. I was happy it was Friday, but sad that I still had to work Saturday as well. I don’t remember details about my morning, but I know that after the normal morning routine of preparing the branch for the day, I was standing in my teller window eating a cup of apple sauce with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkin on stand-by for later. Why that one specific detail stands out, I am not sure, but I have not eaten apple sauce since that day and I avoid the shaped Reese's cups.
So, what happened?
It’s hard to describe what happened, because it happened so fast and yet plays in slow-motion in my head, so it seems a lot longer than 32 seconds. There was one customer in the bank. She was from the hair salon around the corner and was doing her morning banking. She was not at my window, but we were all chatting with her, as is the custom at a small-town bank.
The Service Manager was in the first window handling the night drop. There were piles of cash on her counter that was never touched. The customer was at the second window with a young, but tall teller. I was in the next window and the last window was empty. The drive-up teller was in the back, chatting with a police officer who was out for a morning stroll.
"Everybody Get Down!"
“Everybody get down!” That’s what I remember hearing. That and the loud bang of the door hitting the wall as the robber slammed it open. He was wearing a ski mask. The black kind that men wear when it’s cold out and they are snowplowing. He had a dark hoodie on with the hood pulled up, I think. Details have gotten blurrier as the years have passed, not to mention, the details weren’t that clear to begin with. He may or may not have had glasses, I remember that being a debate everyone had when talking to the FBI. No one could ever confirm if he had a gun. One thing I am 100% clear about, is that this bank robber had combat boots on.
Judging from the glimpse the camera got of the robber as he passed the ATM, and also as he ran in the door, the police assume he did not realize I was in that teller window. I am fairly short, the teller beside me was tall, and the man was running. Not a lot of time to assess the situation. This also did not give me a lot of time to get down and curl up as we were taught. I came face-to-face with that man right before I literally fell face-first into the ground. I didn’t bend my knees, I didn’t throw my arms out, I just fell like a tree when it is cut down.
The robber launched himself over the counter at the same time I fell forward and he landed directly on my back with those very heavy combat boots. Even now, years later, I can feel exactly where each foot rested. One was in the middle of my back, while just the heel of the other hit me, and ground down into my right shoulder. He stood on me as he took the money from my drawer.
Dollar bills were floating down into my face as he stuffed the cash into his bag.
I breathed a sigh of relief as he moved on to the next window. I remember hearing shuffling of feet, in a hurried but heavy-footed manner. Time slowed down, but also sped ahead and the next thing I knew, the robber was using my back as his launch pad to go back over the counter.
Some may not consider this a life-or-death situation, but to me it was. At any time, that robber could have gotten spooked and pulled that gun out and shot me. Or, he could have landed on my back wrong and broke my spine. So many things could have made that one difference in what happened, I was lucky to be alive.
Once I heard the robber exit the bank, there was a moment of pure, paralyizing shock. You aren’t sure if what just happened was real or not. Then, almost in unison, all of the tellers pulled the silent alarm and the phone started to ring. I sat up, curled into a ball and began to sob.
The response time for the police was dismal. The police station is in the same parking lot as our bank! Due to the size and history of the bank, the 9-1-1 dispatcher gave the police the name of a bank in nearby city. By the time things were sorted, the robber was long gone. He was never caught and all he got away with was $1200. The police tried. The FBI tried too. I got to have a boot print taken off of my back, like you see on TV.
I won't go into everything, but that day impacted a lot of things for me. I had constant, paralyzing panic attacks from post-traumatic stress disorder. I had a sprained spine and a busted shoulder. I eventually had to have surgery for a torn labrum in my shoulder. And eventually I quit my job at the bank because I could no longer handle the constant fear. My life is a lot better now and I have a lot of tools to help handle the emotional toll this took. But the memories will always be there (and I definitely utilize any and all options to avoid going into a bank!).
From the moment the ATM camera caught the bank robber running into the bank until it caught him leaving.
Next time you are brushing your teeth, consider that it takes longer for you to clean those pearly whites than it did for someone to change my life.