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CJ Student Tracks Armed Robbery Suspects

June 18, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles

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A crimefighter and an accomplished firefighter, Heather Schwalbach (right) received an award for "Firefighter of the Year" from the Eastex Fire Department for volunteering on the fire and emergency medical services units. —Submitted photo

A criminal justice major at Sam Houston State University recently helped police track a suspect in an armed robbery from a cell phone store in Humble.

Heather Schwalbach, a junior who attends SHSU—The Woodlands Center, was picking up her car after repairs when she spotted a masked man leaving a Sprint store carrying a garbage bag full of items.

“I was having my car aligned,” said Schwalbach. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Schwalbach volunteers at the Eastex Fire Department and had caught a ride from Fire Chief Bryan Harris to pick up her car. While crossing a parking lot, Schwalbach noticed the man leaving the store.

“I noticed the door open and there was a guy with a white bandana over his face, a black hoodie and he was carrying a black garbage bag,” Schwalbach said.

Schwalbach pointed the suspicious man out to Harris, and they watched him head to a nearby van. Harris decided to pursue the vehicle in an effort to get a license plate number.

“I was talking to her and wasn’t paying much attention,” said Harris. “She told me to take a look and I started looking. I thought we should try and get a plate number.”

The pair chased the car down local roads and two men and a woman bailed out, escaping into a storage area. They called the incident into police, who started a search by foot and by air. Two men were taken into custody and later released.

Little did Schwalbach know that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office had a bulletin out on the suspects for a string of armed robberies at cell phone stores throughout the county. While the suspects were not found that day, they were later apprehended at the scene of another crime.

Harris and Schwalbach did not plan to confront the suspect, but rather provide police with a plate number, location and description. It was a good thing because Schwalbach later learned that the suspects were armed and had threatened a salesman with a gun before stealing his wallet and a stock of cell phones from the back room.

“It was a pretty good adrenaline rush,” said Schwalbach. “I overheard that the suspects were armed over the police radio while giving the officer a description.”

Schwalbach is exploring her future career options in criminal justice and said she may be interested in pursuing a double major in criminal justice and victim studies. Although she volunteers in emergency medical services and fire services, she said she doesn’t want to pursue career in firefighting; instead, she is using her experience to be involved in every aspect of criminal justice.

“You get to see a side of society that people don’t get to see,” said Schwalbach. “You don’t hear about all the fires and medical calls. I get to work with police officers on wrecks, and it helps get me into that kind of groove.”

Harris said Sam Houston State University has got a “good one” in Schwalbach.

“She’s an observant kid,” Harris said. “She doesn’t miss much.”

Schwalbach is enjoying her classes at SHSU in The Woodlands.

“The classes are all really good and the professors know what they are talking about,” said Schwalbach.

After taking a class on organized crime, Schwalbach got a different perspective on her brush with criminal element.

“After taking that class, I thought they might have something going on,” Schwalbach said. “They teach you things that are obvious that you don’t necessarily know.”



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