Originally published March 25, 2012
A Grand Valley State University student used his military background and mixed martial arts skills to foil an attempted robbery at Spike N’ Mike’s Party Store Thursday morning.
Zack Thome, an Iraqi War veteran, said the allegedly armed, would-be robber was already demanding money from the store clerk when Thome came in around 10 a.m. Video surveillance shows the male suspect aggressively grabbing at the clerk and trying to pull him over the counter before Thome entered the store. However, the altercation was merely verbal and, as Thome said, inaudible when the student came in.
When Thome realized what was happening, he said he “just went into attack mode. I don’t really remember what I was thinking at that point. I grabbed him, put one arm around his neck, and held one arm against his arm to keep his would-be gun in his pocket and took him down to the ground.”
Thome said the would-be robber was standing at the counter waiting for the cashier to get the money when the student walked in to get an energy drink to assist him with his day of paper-writing. The student was oblivious to the robbery until he got in line, where another man had been watching the situation unfold and invited Thome to cut him in line.
“I stepped in front and I think he kind of expected me to pay attention to what was going on when he said that (I could cut in line),” Thome said. “I didn’t (pay attention, though) and another second goes by and he says to me ‘I don’t know, I think that he’s got a gun.’”
After the other customer repeated his words, Thome said he began to listen to the conversation between the cashier and suspect. He caught the cashier’s bloodshot eyes, mouthed to him to ask whether the store was being robbed and began devising a plan when the cashier confirmed the attempted robbery with a nod. The suspect had a hand in his pocket and claimed he had a gun, which Thome said was his main concern.
“So I’m thinking about how to get this guy, so I think to myself if I can hold that hand straight against his leg, then I won’t have to worry about the gun,” he said. “At the very most, he would shoot himself in the leg.”
Thome said he grabbed the man according to plan, with one arm around his neck and one clutching the suspect’s arm with the alleged weapon.
“The guy wasn’t big enough where I thought I’d have a problem overpowering him,” Thome said.
He then brought the suspect down to the floor. While keeping the suspect’s arm close to his leg, he instructed the other men in the store to pat the suspect down to make sure he was unarmed.
Thome said he ended up choking the man out.
“As soon as he’s out, I kind of hold him there for a little bit,” he said. “My adrenaline was kind of going so I didn’t realize he was out.”
He said he then called the sheriff, who instructed Thome to get off the suspect and personally do a pat down. The police entered the store about 30 seconds later, Thome said.
As for tactics used, Thome said he credits both his martial arts background and his military experience. “The actual tactic of the choke was what I learned from Grand Rapids Mixed Martials Arts,” he said. “I want to stress that (because) the Grand Rapids Mixed Martial Arts is probably the reason why I had the confidence to do something, for sure. As far as protocol for isolating, say, a person of interest and making sure there’s no threat, that was from the military. So as soon as I had him on the ground, it was like snap, snap, snap from what I learned in the military for apprehending a suspect.”
He never considered that his plan could fail. “I never really questioned it,” he said.
Despite the adrenaline rush, the student was able to focus on his homework schedule and return to his paper.
“So from that point, I gave my story to the police officer, got my energy drink, went back to the house and started studying,” he said.
According to a report by Fox 17 News, owner Sunny Singh said the store, located at the corner of Diamond Avenue SE and Fulton Street, hadn’t been robbed in about a decade.
The case is currently being investigated by the Detective Unit of the Grand Rapids Police Department, which was unavailable to provide further details.
Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2012/03/student_vet_thwarts_gr_robbery