Like his father before him, Tim Watts devotes his life to his retail jewelry store in Thomasville, Alabama. Thomasville is a small town of only 5000 where Watts’ customers and employees have been with him for more than 30 years. As the only jewelry store in town, Watts Jewelers became the target of two armed robbers on August 9th. But it’s Tim’s smart response that changed the outcome.
At 11 a.m. on a Friday two men walked into Watts Jewelers with a wicker basket in hand, asking for high school football donations. Tim, sitting at the bench, instructed his employee to answer ‘Not today,’ expecting the issue to be over.
The men draw guns, aiming one at Watts’ employee and the other at a customer, as they force him to the ground. With a gun to her back, the Watts employee was led to the back where they zip tied her and the other female employee, laying them face down on the floor. Tim was forced to empty his register as one robber held a gun to his head. The robbers made sure they never touched a thing.
Moving to the jewelry cases the independent retailer sensed his anger growing. Despite the gun held to his head, Tim’s thoughts centered on the injustice of the situation to his staff, his property, and his merchandise.
“As I filled their bags with my money, my bridal merchandise, my colored stones and the beloved pieces of my customers, my anger grew toward their entitled mind-set. They thought they deserved to have merchandise they didn’t work for. Just because they had a gun didn’t mean they deserved to take my stuff.”
Intentionally dropping the most valuable items on the ground behind the counter as he filled the bags, Tim overheard one robber tell his customer, “I can tell I’m going to have trouble from you. I should kill you!” Tim knew he had to do something.
In an effort to speed up the process, he shoved whole displays into their bags until a bag burst. As they walked him to the back to get more bags, Tim made a conscious decision that changed the course of the entire event.
“As they walk me to the back to get another bag, I knew I had to do something to shift the power into my hands. If things kept going in their favor it wasn’t going to end well. It was at that moment I ran out the back door and slammed it shut.”
Leaving his employees and his customer wasn’t easy, but Tim reasoned the robbers would leave the moment he hit the door, and his risk paid off.
As Tim ran behind his building, he got as low to the ground as he could get and still run fast. Swerving and zigzagging, he yelled for someone to call the police. He jumped into his truck and saw a white Bonneville up the street from his store. He suspected it to be the getaway car and followed it.
Without a cell phone, OnStar became his biggest ally as they connected him with the local police dispatch. As he followed the getaway car he became confused at its erratic driving.
“They would speed up, drive 300-400 yards and then stop for no reason. They did this several times and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
Finally the car stopped, the driver jumped out, opened the trunk, and out jumped the two robbers. They immediately started running toward Tim’s truck with arms stretched out shooting.
“They got off 10 rounds from a .25 caliber and a .380 caliber pointed straight at me,” Watts recalls. “At one point I remember having the red laser spot directly on me from the site of their gun! I ducked down in my seat and waited until the shots stopped and then saw them running into the woods as the driver took off for the interstate.”
The two men, who turned out to be uncle and nephew, ran through the woods. Tim tried to follow but headed back toward his truck when he lost them. As he was walking out of the woods he met the police who quickly set up a perimeter, and with the use of tracking dogs, caught the two men in under 30 minutes.
With his employees and his customer safe, Tim was hailed as an “incredibly brave man” by the police, who admitted capture would have been much more difficult without his help. But Tim’s thoughts returned to his lost merchandise, which wasn’t recovered when the men were arrested.
“I knew they must have stashed it in those woods and I wanted my product back. I went back the next day and scoured the woods with the police until we came across the bags hidden under brush in the creek. Everything was soaked but it was all there. I recovered everything but $80 cash they gave to the driver for gas. I was determined they weren’t going to win.”
With the robbery behind him, Watts has added additional security measures, including a surveillance camera connected directly to the police station. He speaks with regret when discussing the two young robbers, 23 and 28 years old, who now face 30+ years in jail.
“What a tragic story for two young lives. Look what they did in just 10 minutes. This truly isn’t a gun problem or a gun law problem,” he laments. “This is a behavior, home life and educational issue.”
Hoping to use his experience to help other small mom-and-pop retailers prepare for the worst, Tim wants to remind them to not let their guard down. “I’d love to become a sales rep and travel to see retailers across the country and remind them to be cautious.”
Chalk one up for the little guy. Chalk one up for brave Tim Watts!