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RANGELY I When a young man entered the Rangely Pharmacy on Monday, April 16 wearing a ski mask, certified pharmacy technician Marcia Prater initially thought he was ill.
“I was standing there when he came in and he had a mask on, but it didn’t register in my mind what was going on,” Prater said. “I thought he was covering up his face because he was sick.”
Prater asked the suspect, later identified as 19-year-old Jeremy Evans Gonzales, if she could help him. When she repeated the question, he produced what appeared to be a semiautomatic handgun and banged it on the counter.
The suspect said that he wanted Oxycontin, a prescription-only narcotic painkiller. If everyone cooperated with him, he said, nobody would be hurt.
Pharmacist Erin Graden responded to Prater’s request for the drugs and took several boxes to the front for Gonzales, who allegedly set the gun on the counter and pulled out a knife. He then began to transfer the Oxycontin from the boxes to a duffel bag.
“In school and (from) working in other pharmacies, you learn to just give them what they want and keep everything low-profile,” Prater said. “We moved calm, talked calm, stayed calm.”
The suspect then asked for syringes, grabbing a few and placing them in the bag.
“He was scared, very nervous,” Prater said. “You also go off of that, because you didn’t want to send him into any panic.”
Prater estimates that the suspect was only in the building for around five minutes. No customers were in the pharmacy at the time.
Graden placed an emergency 911 call around 11:40 a.m. Rangely police and Rio Blanco sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and conducted an investigation of the building and grounds.
Rio Blanco County residents received a CodeRED notification alert just before noon on April 16, describing a 5-foot, 6-inch Hispanic male wearing black and possibly carrying a Nike duffel bag. The alert warned residents to contact police but not to approach the suspect. Around noon, the Rangely School District placed Parkview Elementary and Rangely Junior/Senior High schools on lockdown for approximately an hour and a half.
According to a Rangely police department affidavit, the robbery was videotaped on the pharmacy’s internal camera system and was instrumental in identifying Gonzales.
“It’s obviously a very scary situation,” said Rangely District Hospital chief executive officer Nick Goshe. He credits the robbery’s positive outcome to the employees’ quick thinking and the security system. “I couldn’t have asked (the employees) to do a better job. And we’re looking at beefing up security cameras outside and in the parking lot area, so we did learn from that.”
A Blue Mountain Inn camera across the street from the pharmacy also recorded a vehicle near the pharmacy’s south entrance around the time of the robbery, then driving away a few minutes later. The car matched the description of a Buick Gonzales was driving the morning of the robbery.
Rangely Police Department Lieutenant Roy Kinney said video footage is one of the best types of evidence to apprehend and convict suspects in cases like these.
“I highly encourage businesses to invest in a video recording system for instances like this or theft, which the public almost demands at trials,” Kinney said. “It puts jurors right there. They can see what happened for themselves … If video’s involved, that’s often what solves the case.”
According to the affidavit, Gonzales had been arrested for theft and for attempting to commit the crime of possession of a controlled substance in Oregon. He had come to Rio Blanco County to get away from his drug problems, an acquaintance said.
After reviewing the videos, law enforcement teams tracked Gonzales to a home several miles outside of town where he had been living for a few weeks. After a brief foot pursuit, Gonzales was apprehended and the stolen pharmacy items were recovered.
Gonzales will be charged in court April 27.
Pharmacy workers went home that Monday with a lot to think about.
“I came home that night, and it was the best thing ever to be home with my kids,” Prater said. “It really sank in, ‘oh, my gosh, I could have been dead.’”