News

Day at mall turns upside down after Willowbrook robbery

When Mirek Mituta drove his Subaru in from Abbotsford to Langley Thursday morning for some routine maintenance, his intention was to have a pleasant outing with his two-year-old daughter Kazia.

Instead, he ended up in a fight with some jewelry store robbers.

After dropping off his car, Mituta took Kazia in her stroller to do a little shopping at the Willowbrook Shopping Centre.

Around noon, father and daughter were outside the Golden Tree Jewelry store when Mituta saw some men leap over the counters inside the store.

Inside the store, security guard Jas Brar had just taken a shot of pepper spray to the face from one of the robbers who snuck up from behind.

There were "three or four," Brar said.

It was hard to be sure because the spray made it hard to see.

Brar said the crooks sprayed everybody in the store, hitting five or six staffers,including the owner.

Brar only got a good look at two of the robbers, describing them as Caucasians dressed in black t-shirts with caps.

When he saw the robbery underway, Mituta, a Karate instructor and a fifth-degree black belt, reacted by pushing his daughter's stroller out of range and tackling one of the robbers.

"In moments like that, you don't really think," Mituta said.

He grabbed the man's hair and came up with his cap.

"He was almost bald."

One of the other robbers had pepper spray, and he was using it on the staff inside the store.

Mituta ducked behind a pillar until he saw the man with the spray drop his hands.

He jumped the robber, only to get a blast of pepper spray in his face at close range.

"Then it was over [for me]," Mituta told The Times outside, as paramedics rinsed out his red and watery eyes.

When eyewitness Danyel Newcombe saw Mituta get sprayed and fall down, she grabbed for the stroller with Kazia.

"I just pulled the baby out of the way," she said.

Kazia was upset and screaming.

When her half-blind father held her to calm her down, the infant came in contact with the pepper spray soaked into his shirt.

Her face was red from the spray, but she was not injured.

Newcombe suffered some skin irritation from the spray fumes.

 Security guard Brar tried to follow the robbers as they fled into the mall.

That was when he, Mituta and Newcombe said at least one and possibly more shots were fired by the bandits.

Brar was having trouble seeing clearly, but he believes the shots were fired into the air to scare people, not at any person.

Langley RCMP quickly arrived and shut down the mall.

One officer suffered minor injuries en route when his car lost control on a slippery street and crashed into a 56 Avenue restaurant.

Shotgun-toting Mounties could be seen guarding entrances as officers began interviewing dozens of the eyewitnesses while paramedics treated spray victims.

Langley RCMP Cpl. Holly Marks said six to 10 people suffered serious exposure to pepper spray and some had to go to hospital.

At least two of the victims were babies, Marks said.

About an hour after the robbery, Vancouver police arrested six suspects in connection with the Langley robbery at Lougheed and North Road in Coquitlam.

Charges are pending.

Any witnesses to the robbery who haven't spoken to police yet are asked to contact the Langley RCMP at 604-532-3200.

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