© Star photo by Frank Gale
Anne Hartâs smile these days is in sharp contrast to when she was suffering severe anxiety after being the victim of violence at gunpoint not once, but twice several decades ago.
STEPHENVILLE Though two decades have passed since Anne Hart was held at gunpoint by members of the same gang â not once, but on two separate occasions â she still has flashbacks to this day.
âEspecially if Iâm watching a movie where there is a bank robbery going on, I relive those moments each time,â the Stephenville resident said in an interview Thursday after being involved in ceremonies to kick off a Violence Against Women month campaign.
Hart was the manager of a credit union in Toronto back in 1993 when the first robbery took place. Sheâd only been in her position for six months at the time.
She said the bank had an all female staff and the robbers had cased the bank for some time. The robbers entered the bank and were not wearing masks, but pulled out guns and eventually left with about $5,000.
Hart said she was traumatized by the event but was told, rather than stay away, to go right back to work. She did just that, but anxiety crept in. Six months later, she went on long-term disability as a result of what she had gone through in the first robbery and her fear of a recurrence.
The day she brought her staff into her office to tell them a replacement would be coming in, she looked through her office window to witness a masked armed robber jumping over the gate.
âHe entered my office armed with a handgun and demanded I open the vault, which I couldnât do because itâs timed,â Hart said.
She was able to electronically send a message to the security company that an armed robbery was in progress, but unfortunately the system monitor didnât notice right away. During the robbery, Hart had tufts of her hair hauled out of her head as one of the robbers dragged her along the floor. One of the robbers also held his gun to her head.
After getting about $2,000 from some drawers in the bank outside the vault, the two robbers left and staff immediately locked the doors. The police arrived and nabbed one of the robbers and the getaway driver who was waiting in a car behind the bank.
Police pursued and caught the other robber, who had fled on foot.
Hart said the whole staff was traumatized by the event. Because she was involved in both robberies, Hart went on a leave of absence for more than a year.
âI literally locked myself in the house from which I never ventured for that full year,â she said, adding that she suffered from severe anxiety.
Hart was contacted by the police to be a witness at the trial of the bank robbers, who dubbed themselves âThe Jamaican Posse,â but she declined because she felt she wasnât stable enough to get through it.
Even without her testimony the robbers were convicted and sentenced to serve eight years in jail.
Hart said the same group was convicted of committing both robberies.
âIâll always remember (the robber) putting the gun muzzle right up to my neck,â she said. âAlthough 20 years have passed it will always be part of my life and something Iâll always replay in my mind because the end result could have been different.â
Hart feels sheâs a stronger person today for having lived through it.
With tears in her eyes, she said without the support of her husband Ernie and her family she wouldnât be where she is today.
Since moving to Stephenville, she has served with both the Bay St. George and Southwest Coast Coalitions to End Violence. She joined those organizations because she believes anything that can be done to help victims of violence should be done.
âGetting the message out there that there are resources and help is very important,â Hart said.