HILO — A downtown Hilo store clerk who was robbed at gunpoint late Thursday morning kept her cool and took photos of the alleged robber’s getaway truck, allowing police to arrest the suspect a short time later.
Kendra Rajan, a clerk at Rainbow-Jo and Tiny Bubbles boutiques on Keawe Street, said the 33-year-old clerk, identified in court documents filed by police as Rachel Conder, “was very composed” when confronted by a pistol-toting woman.
“Rachel had her iPhone. She followed (the alleged robber) outside and took pictures of the truck as she was driving away, and she got the license number,” Rajan said Friday morning. “That was very fast thinking.”
Police said the suspect drove away in a white pickup truck, described in court documents as a Nissan Frontier.
Rajan said that Conder told her the robber was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
“She said it made the features on her face stand out,” Rajan said.
Rajan said Conder wasn’t scheduled to work on Friday, but “is doing very well.”
Court documents state that the suspect took a total of $237 and that Conder told officers she felt fearful for her life during the robbery. Police say the holdup happened at about 11:50 a.m.
At 12:30 p.m., police arrested 23-year-old Tia Nohealani Menino in a traffic stop on Makaala Street in the Kanoelehua Industrial Area. Court documents state that a dark-colored handgun was “in plain view on a baby car seat” behind the driver’s seat. An unloaded .22-caliber revolver was recovered, documents state.
According to documents, Conder identified Menino from a photo lineup.
Menino was charged with first-degree robbery, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, terroristic threatening, third-degree theft, two counts of fourth-degree theft and three firearms violations. Her bail was set at $28,750.
First-degree robbery and use of a firearm are both Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Rajan said all that was taken in the robbery was cash. “We don’t really keep a lot in the registers.” She said that the money was taken from both the Rainbow-Jo and Tiny Bubbles register, as well as Conder’s purse.
Rainbow-Jo is a women’s clothing boutique and Tiny Bubbles is a children’s boutique with different owners that share the same store space and employees. Also in the building, upstairs in the back, is the recently opened Hibiscus Art Gallery. The gallery’s owner, Arval Shipley, was in his shop when the robbery took place, Rajan said, but didn’t realize the holdup had occurred until after the suspect had left the store.
“It’s not something we expect in the middle of downtown Hilo, especially in the middle of the day. We were lucky there weren’t any children in the store,” Rajan said.
Police Lt. Greg Esteban of the Criminal Investigations Section said a woman armed robber is a rarity, especially in Hilo.
“I can’t recall any instance where there was an armed female charged for robbery, and I’ve been on this job for 28 years,” he said.
Esteban said Conder “handled the situation the best way she could by being compliant with the demands of the suspect, and may have prevented anyone getting injured,” and had the presence of mind to get a clear photo of the truck and its license plate.
Menino made her initial court appearance Friday afternoon in Hilo District Court, shackled and clad in a gray hoodie and sweat pants. Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Ng asked Judge Barbara Takase to release Menino into the supervision of her family.
“This would appear to be the first time that Miss Menino has been arrested,” Ng told the court.
Deputy Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen requested that “bail be maintained due to the severity of the charges in this case.”
Takase maintained Menino’s bail and set a preliminary hearing for Monday at 2 p.m.
Menino remained in custody late Friday afternoon at Hawaii Community Correctional Center.