Ofelia Garcia Hunter
Alice Echo-News Journal
Janie Vela, a customer in Wells Fargo bank on East Main Street at the time of Thursday’s robbery, won’t soon forget staring down the barrel of a rifle as she was confronted by a bank robber face-to-face.
“I heard the blast, I turned around and when I saw him, I froze,” said Vela in a shaky voice. “He was carrying a rifle…he fired the shots and said, ‘This is a hold up,’ and he told us not to move.”
Vela said the man’s voice was stern and rough.
She said the man was wearing a dark green bandana over his face with glasses outlined with black frames, wearing a cap and an Army jacket.
“He had a money bag and he threw it to Irene (the teller),” Vela said. “She handed him the money and he turned and pointed the gun at me.”
Vela said at that moment the alleged robber, later identified as Juan Villarreal from San Diego, demanded the keys to her car. But Vela told him that she didn’t have them because her husband was waiting outside in the parking lot in the car, she said.
Villarreal then asked one of the bank employees for his vehicle keys and he complied, Vela said.
Villarreal fled from the bank in a stolen car as police chased him.
Villarreal was fatally shot by police on County Road 341 and another suspect, John Eric Garcia, was arrested on County Road 341. During the crossfire, Officer Daniel Elizondo, was shot in the leg. Elizondo’s injuries are non-life threatening, officials said.
“I was like frozen, I was like this,” she said as her hands trembled. “It was a very, very scary situation. I see it in the news every day not knowing it would happen to me some day.”
Wells Fargo Bank public relations officer said the bank’s main objective was the safety of their customers.
“Wells Fargo’s top priority in all aspects of its operation is the safety of our customers and team members,” said Helen Bow, assistant vice president regional banking communications of Wells Fargo Bank.
“All policies and practices are developed with this safety goal at the very top of our mind.”
After Vela was interviewed by investigators, she was released and met up with her daughters and granddaughters at the parking lot of the bank.
“I’m just scared and nervous,” she said as she hugged her family members and cried. Her daughter said they were glad their mother was fine.
“We just thank God she is still with us,” Glenda Vela said.