SEVIERVILLE, TENN (WNCN) – Sevierville Police Department said Jared Vault was robbed Friday morning — and police believe it could be the fifth Southern jewelry store hit by the same armed woman.
Police say a woman came into the store at the Tanger Outlets around 9:42 a.m. and pulled out a large caliber black and silver semi-automatic pistol.
They say she ordered to employees into a back office, tied their hands behind their backs with zip ties, and then went back into the store and placed jewelry into a brown shopping bag. The suspect then left the store.
“It’s scary. Makes you stop and think about your surroundings and what’s going on,” said Patricia Rogers, a shopper.
The suspect is described as a white woman between 25 and 30 years old wearing navy blue hospital scrubs, white shoes and a gray University of Alabama hat. She had red hair that was possibly a wig and light brown eyebrows. She was carrying a large silver purse.
Officials are also investigating similar robberies of jewelry stores in Florida, South Carolina and two in Georgia.
In October, authorities say the woman went into Reeds Jewelers in Panama City Beach, Florida with a gun. In this case, she told two store employees to go to the store’s restroom where she zip-tied their hands, just like in Sevierville, before getting away with more than $400,000 worth of jewels.
Police say she pulls out a gun and forces employees into the back where she then ties them up before stealing the jewelry.
The first robbery was a Jared in Woodstock, GA. The next robbery was at a Zales in Dawsonville, GA. There she stole jewelry worth $13,000.
A week later a woman robbed a Reeds in Panama City Beach. She hit that one for $40,000.
The next store hit was a Jared Vault in Tanger Outlet Two in Bluffton, South Carolina. The thief was described as wearing a blue or purple striped skirt, a lavender and black brimmed hat according to WJCL.
Police are trying to figure out if the robberies were committed by the same woman.
The methods are similar and all the stores that were robbed were chain stores at large retail shopping/ entertainment plazas.
Some shoppers in Tennessee were surprised by the woman’s actions on Friday.
“That someone had enough nerve to do that in public. This many people here,” said Beverly Hughes, another shopper.
“It feels like a comfortable place to be. You wouldn’t even think about that kind of thing happening here,” said Rick Goetz, a shopper.
For the most part, shoppers believe the outlet mall is safe, but some worry about the employees who were tied up.
“I feel bad for the people that work there because now it’s going to be hard for them to come back to work knowing that’s happened. They would maybe wonder if it’s going to happen again,” said Crystal Jackson, another shopper.
Police are still looking for the woman who may have an accomplice. Anyone with information is asked to call (865) 868-1747.
— CNN and WATE-TV contributed to this report