ATM robbery, rumors spark fear on base

It turns out that a rumor circulating at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station about a proliferation of ATM robberies was greatly exaggerated.

Law enforcement officials are only aware of one robbery that occurred at about 4:30 p.m. last Thursday, Feb. 28.

Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office explained that the robbery occurred at the stand-alone Navy Federal Credit Union automatic teller machine on Ault Field Road at Langley Boulevard. A woman reported that an unknown man approached her, saying he wanted to ask her a question, then grabbed $100 in cash and a debit card out of her hand. The white male suspect fled in a white, SUV-style vehicle.

Wallace said he’s not clear about the chain of events, but someone apparently told the victim that the robbery was the fourth or fifth such incident at the particular ATM. She told Navy officials with one of the squadrons and they sent out emails warning sailors about a series of robberies without first verifying the information with the Sheriff’s Office, Wallace said.

“It hit like wildfire,” Wallace said, referring to the unfounded rumor that spread and became embellished. Over the weekend, he was standing at a checkout stand and heard people talking about “12 to 15 robberies” at ATMs.

Several people called the News-Times Monday, upset because they thought that the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t releasing information about a serious criminal threat in the community. Wallace pointed out that the victim in the robbery didn’t report it until about a day after it happened, which was too late to get information into the Saturday newspaper.

Monday afternoon, a handful of people who used the popular Navy Federal ATM were all aware of the story about the robberies, though they weren’t worried about using the machine in the broad daylight.

“My wife asked is she needs to follow me to the ATM,” said local resident Dennis King. “I told her I’d be OK. There were three people waiting in line.”

The victim described the robber as a white man, six feet, one inch tall, 180 pounds, with blond, medium-length hair. He was wearing a green and white checkered shirt and a brown fleece jacket.

Anyone with any information as to the identity of the suspect should call the Island County Sheriff’s Office at 678-4422 or the I-COM dispatch center at 679-9567.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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