A Fishtown pharmacy robbed during Hurricane Sandy might have been the latest victim of a bandit suspected to be behind 13 other local drug store robberies, authorities said.
“They were saying on the news he hit pharmacies 13 times, so I’m number 14,” York Street Pharmacy owner Ervis Rrapi said one day after he was held up at gunpoint.
Rrapi, 31, was in his drug store at the corner of York and Memphis streets with a fellow pharmacist at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, when the armed robber entered. The man made off with Xanax, Percocet, Oxycodone and $2,000 cash.
“I recognized him. It is the same person that was on Channel 16 [WNEP Philadelphia],” Rrapi said.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Philadelphia Field Division spokesman Special Agent Steve Bartholomew confirmed ATF is investigating the case as possibly linked to the previous pharmacy robberies.
“Based on the information we received, there’s a likelihood it is the same individual,” Bartholomew said.
Despite beliefs that looting rises during emergencies, this robbery was apparently premeditated, not spontaneous or related to Hurricane Sandy.
“He just used the storm Sandy to put a plus to his plan,” Rrapi said.
A Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency representative said the agency is not aware of crime trends during emergencies.
Fishtown and Philadelphia’s other River Wards were enduring scattered rainstorms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday night when the robbery occurred.
The unidentified white man entered York Street Pharmacy carrying a black revolver and wearing a ski mask and gloves, according to police.
He handed a black cloth bag to the pharmacists and demanded that they fill the bag with painkillers. He then ordered Rrapi and his colleague to lie down while he emptied the cash register and fled, police said.
“He was quick,” Rrapi said. “He was very calm with what he was doing. I am grateful to him for that. He did not hurt us. It is no reason to die, for a couple of drugs and money.”
Rrapi said he contacted police after the robbery and that they arrived within five to 10 minutes.
Bartholomew said that the ATF was made aware of the incident and its likely connection to the string of robberies on Tuesday evening. The other robberies have taken place at various neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area such as Rhawhurst, Holmesburg and Fox Chase, but never before in Fishtown.
Port Richmond Pharmacy owner James Masino said he was unaware of the robbery at York Street Pharmacy until hearing about it from Star, but that he was aware of the string of robberies in the area. Masino declined to comment on the robberies.
Although Rrapi said he was in fear for his life during the robbery, his pharmacy was open for business as usual the next day.
“I am grateful for support and the community’s support,” he said. “My pharmacy is surrounded by cameras. … We were able to get a few pictures and are helping the police.”
The robber is described as a white man, 5 feet 8 inches to 6 feet tall and of an average build. The ATF is requesting that anyone who has information about this robber contact their tip hot line at 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867) or e-mail ATFTips@atf.gov.
A $50,000 reward is being offered for information that would lead to identifying and arresting the so-called “pharmacy bandit.” The reward comprises $10,000 from the ATF and $40,000 from Rite Aid Pharmacy.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.