Column for Dec. 19 Muscatine Journal

Some people rise to the occasion when heroics are needed.

Then there are the rest of us.

My opportunity to be a hero and make news for a change —instead of merely reporting on it —casually walked right by the other day. Enough people have already teased me about it that it’s time to come clean.

You most likely already know the news: the Central State Bank branch at the Muscatine Hy-Vee was robbed at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday.

A robber — described by police as being in his 20s, 6-feet tall and 180-200 pounds — passed a note to a bank employee. In no time at all, the robber casually strolled out of the supermarket at 2400 Second Ave. with an undisclosed sum. He has not yet been found.

What you might not know is who was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army —no more than 25 feet away and oblivious to the robbery in progress.

Let’s just say the experience has given me some insight into a question asked this week, I’m betting, by more than one Muscatine resident: Why didn’t anyone follow the robber when he left the store?

“The robber certainly must not have taken time to leave a drop in the bucket,” a friend teased Thursday in an e-mail. “Then (you) would have had a chance to trip —or sit — on him.”

The robber walked by and out of the store while I stood there jingling a bell and visiting with Hy-Vee customers. The truth is I don’t even remember seeing anyone wearing a dark coat, hat and sunglasses with a black scarf over his face.

Later, I joked about merely positioning myself to report the story. In more than 20 years of reporting, it was the first time I was at a crime scene when the criminal was there.

But he must have really looked like everyone else. In photos I have since seen that were taken from surveillance video, Hy-Vee customers are shown walking by in the background with no idea a robbery was taking place.

It happened because the store was busy. People were hurrying to buy a gallon of milk, pick up their dry cleaning or drop off aluminum cans and get their deposit before heading home.

Maybe we should all pay more attention to what’s going on around us. But the reason a robbery happened without everyone knowing is because of how the robber and the bank employees conducted themselves.

In a perverse way, I can’t help but admire the robber. He casually walked in, passed a note to a teller, pocketed the loot and walked out as if he had just stopped to pay his mortgage and pick up a loaf of bread.

My guess is this robber has robbed before or really studied what to do.

But the people I really admire for staying cool under pressure are the bank employees. No one from the bank would comment Friday because of the ongoing investigation. But I’m pretty sure those employees did exactly what they have been trained to do: Give the robber what he wants, diffuse the situation and try to establish a foundation from which the police can work to find him.

Because of them, very few others —maybe no one else — knew what had happened until the bank employees locked up and the police began arriving. No one was hurt or killed and the worst thing that happened is —for the time being —someone made off with money that isn’t his.

Real life is seldom like the movies. If it were, I would have tackled the robber and yelled, “Yippee ki-yay.”

What a great story I would have had to tell for years to come. But in real life, the real heroes this time were the bank employees, who deserve thanks and praise for knowing what to do and doing it well under pressure.

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