Authorities call for extra vigilance during holiday season

One Ramona woman,

18, robbed after work

in mall parking lot

By Jessica King

A string of violent purse-snatchings at malls “down the hill” hit home this month, with the robbery of an 18-year-old Ramona woman.

Lauren Frye was robbed while leaving Westfield Parkway Plaza in El Cajon, where she just recently started working, according to her mother, Kim Frye.

“It was fairly early, only 7 o’clock at night, she was walking to her car in the same direction as traffic in the parking lot when they pulled up behind her," said Kim. "Their car’s headlights were off … a man in the back seat got right up to her through his window and screamed at her, ‘Shut up!’ … He grabbed her wrist and then her purse, knocking her to the ground.”

Frye lost her first paycheck and other personal valuables but escaped serious injury. Still, she was shaken and felt “so violated,” said her mother, adding that the family was further horrified to learn there have been at least six other similar robberies targeting young women in local shopping mall parking lots, and neither employees nor shoppers have been warned.

The Fryes are working with El Cajon police to try to catch the thieves.

“I’m most concerned as a mother about these young girls who can be so vulnerable talking on their cell phones and not being aware of their surroundings,” said Kim, noting she’s now cautioned her own daughter to walk against traffic so she can see what’s coming and to not be afraid to ask for a security escort when leaving work after dark.

“It’s your right as a consumer and an employee to have safety first,” she said.

Authorities in Ramona said residents would be smart to heed a few simple safety guidelines to avoid being crime victims during the holidays, both while shopping and while at home.

The darker side of any holiday season includes increases in parking lot robberies and home and vehicle break-ins, said Crime Prevention Specialist Barbara Wallace of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

“I think this is the worst time of year to be a victim,” said Wallace. “It hurts more, I think, when you get someone special something with your hard-earned money and you lose it before you can give it to them.”

The Sheriff Department’s Ramona substation is in the midst of launching its annual holiday watch program, which, according to Wallace, boils down to an increased vigilance by law enforcement to make the holiday season safer and happier for Ramona residents. That will include mounted patrols working local shopping center parking lots, and senior volunteers keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.

But law enforcement cannot be everywhere and with so many Ramona residents shopping and working “down the hill” during the holidays, Wallace recommends residents also step up their personal safety efforts to avoid being targeted like Frye was.

“When you’re out shopping, be especially aware of everything around you, have your keys out and ready so you’re not having to shuffle around for them when you get to your car,” said Wallace.  “Also be careful of people asking for money ... you could pull out your wallet to give them a few bucks and realize it was just a ruse to make yourself even more vulnerable.”

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