Haunted by a Robbery

By Jesus Izarra

Alma Cruz and her husband, William Ovalles, at their home in the Bronx. Photo by Jesus Izarra
Alma Cruz and her husband, William Ovalles, at their home in the Bronx.
Photo by Jesus Izarra

“Help! I’ve been robbed,” Alma Cruz remembers shouting, as she stood in the middle of the street after being robbed by a man with a knife.

On the sidewalk in front of the John Adams housing project in the southeast Bronx, she cried and clutched her head in despair, she said, when Robert Vega, who was passing by said, “What happened to you?”

Cruz, 59, said she recalled vividly the evening of Oct. 4, when she was on Westchester Avenue on her way home.

As the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration come to an end, the mayor likes to boast of how much safer New York City has become. Yet, that improvement provides little comfort to a crime victim.

As Cruz stood on the street after the robbery, tears rolled down her cheeks, she remembers. “I’m fine but very scared,” she later recalled telling Vega. “The man threatened to stab me if I didn’t give him my handbag, I had no choice but give it to him and ask God to protect me; the man took the handbag and ran to the other corner of the street moving away quickly from my sight.”

Cruz said she called the police right away, but they couldn’t find the robber when they searched the neighborhood.

Robberies have dropped sharply in the 45th Precinct, down 24.7 percent in the last two years, according to Police Department data, but that still left 137 people victimized since the start of the year.

“It was the first time I’ve been a crime victim,” said Cruz, a tall Dominican woman. She is still haunted by the moment when she was walking on the street at

about 9:30 p.m. and a man wearing a black hoodie was standing in front of her with a knife. “Every time I pass by Westchester Avenue, I remember him and it makes me feel anxious,” she said.

She usually feels connected to the incident and sometimes the lingering fear can be worse than the original crime.

Angel Oropeza, a psychologist, said in an email interview:  “Robbery is a particular type of aggression, and therefore the first consequence is that victims feel violated. Now, recovery factors will depend on what is called the Act Attribution, which claims responsibility for what happened. In other words, whether she feels responsible for the incident or whether she attributes the incident to other people. Generally, people who claim responsibility of a traumatic situation to other people will recover faster.”

Looking back on that night, Cruz said, “It was a horrible moment in my life, and I hope it will never happen again.“