Under normal circumstances, walking into a store wearing a surgical mask in the US
would be grounds for suspicion. But with many people now wearing some sort of face
covering to avoid catching or transmitting the novel coronavirus, more Americans than
ever are obscuring their features when they leave home.
Thieves appear to have capitalized on this trend. They became eager early
adopters, using surgical masks during the commission of various crimes, seemingly
recognizing an opportunity weeks before the Centers for Disease Control on April
3 issued its first official recommendation to cover your face when going outside. Face
masks are so coveted at this point they can sell on the black market at premiums of up
During the health emergency it might be tough to tell the good guys apart from the bad
guys when almost everyone is wearing a mask. Employees at a Logan Heights
convenience store in San Diego said criminals used the expectation of facial coverings
to their advantage during a brazen theft that turned violent.
At the V-D Market, employee Alan Mikhael retraced the steps a couple criminals had
taken over the weekend.
“She opened this door. She grabbed this beer,” said Mikhael, as he recounted where
two women took beer from the refrigerator at the back of the store. Mikhael saw the
women stash the beers on the store surveillance cameras.
Most know facial coverings are encouraged during the pandemic. Unfortunately,
Mikhael and store manager Yazmany Moscoso believe they are what gave the two
women more confidence to simply walk out with an 18 pack of beer.
“Because people take advantage of it. They cover your face. It’s less likely you’ll
recognize them,” said Moscoso.
The description of a man who tried to rob a check-cashing business Monday in west
Wichita sounds like a character from the TV show Breaking Bad. He’s described as a
white male in his mid-thirties, around 6′ tall and 160 lbs. He was wearing a yellow
hazmat jumpsuit, an N-95 facemask, blue medical gloves and sunglasses.
Police are looking for the man who tried to rob a check-cashing business while wearing
the hazmat PPE and brandishing a handgun. Officers were called to Order Express, Inc.
in the 1500 block of S. Seneca shortly after 11:00 a.m. Monday, April 20 2020. The
same day in San Diego
A 22-year-old woman who works there said a man came in, wrote a note indicating that
he had a gun, and demanded cash. The woman went into the back office to call 911,
and the man took off on foot, headed southwest. The woman was not hurt, but police
have not found the suspect.
When Solimar Rodriguez Gonzalez messaged her stepfather on Facebook last month
asking for surgical masks and gloves, he assumed she wanted them—like just about
everyone else in the world right now—for protection against coronavirus.
However, the FBI says her boyfriend, William Rosario Lopez, in fact used the highly
sought-after protective gear to disguise his face and fingerprints during an eight-day
crime spree that ended with the couple’s arrest on April 9.
“No one would be alarmed at this now, compared to just a month ago,” said retired
NYPD detective sergeant Joseph Giacalone, who teaches police procedure at New
York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, referring to the number of people wearing
masks in public.
Lopez and Gonzalez appeared to understand this. Shortly before 10pm on March 18, a
clerk at a Connecticut gas station was cleaning a coffee pot when Lopez, wearing a
surgical mask and blue latex gloves, entered the store. According to a criminal
complaint filed in Connecticut federal court, Lopez pointed a silver gun at the clerk,
grabbed him by the collar, and marched him over to the cash register, hitting him in the
back of the head with the weapon along the way. After the terrified clerk handed over
$1,188, Lopez fled in a dark-colored Honda Accord.
Four nights later, Lopez—again in a surgical mask—allegedly robbed another gas
station in the area, getting away with $200. Apparently disappointed with the paltry take,
he kicked the clerk and ordered him to the floor before fleeing the scene. He then
robbed two other nearby gas stations, getting away with $500 in the first but coming up
empty-handed in the second.
He hit a fifth gas station a few days after that, carrying the same silver gun and again
hiding his face behind a surgical mask.
“Because another customer was in the store, the masked male perused store shelves
and picked up several items, including a box of saran wrap and fruit snacks,” the
complaint says. “After the other customer left the store, the masked male approached
the counter, pointed a small silver pistol at the clerk and demanded money.”
Police circulated the surveillance video among several different law enforcement
agencies. The footage not only included clear shots of Lopez wearing a surgical mask
during the robberies, but also a woman with bright red hair who appeared on camera
shortly before two of them. After casing the place, the woman—Gonzalez—can be seen
A New Haven cop eventually recognized the pair from an unrelated disturbance call.
During that incident, police captured body cam footage of the two, the Honda Accord,
and the car’s license plate number.
Surveillance video also caught them—in surgical masks—outside a Connecticut
Walmart after store security accused them of shoplifting.
Gonzalez’s parents positively identified the couple for investigators, and showed them
Facebook Messenger conversations in which Gonzalez asked for masks and gloves
they figured she needed to protect herself from coronavirus.
“Call me cynical, but it occurred to me at the outset of the increase of people wearing
face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, there would be criminals who would
capitalize on the situation,” retired FBI agent Dennis Franks told Quartz. “This must also
create increased trepidation on the part of store clerks and other potential locations for
Police arrested Lopez and Gonzalez last week. Lopez is now detained pending an April
23 court date. Gonzalez is under home detention, awaiting her next appearance in
court, scheduled for April 30. Lawyers for the two did not respond to requests for further
details. The Department of Justice declined to comment.