An off-duty, uniformed Omaha Police officer quickly apprehended a would-be robber Saturday morning. The suspect entered a convenience store and pulled a gun, not noticing the officer inside.
Nineteen-year-old Brandel Thomas left the store empty-handed just after midnight Saturday, but he found himself in handcuffs.
Fortunately for two clerks and an unarmed security guard, an off-duty Omaha police officer just happened to stop by the Corner Food Mart at 24th and Arbor in between shifts.
Officer Dusty Purcell, a 26-year-old with less than two years at OPD, was driving his personal car at the time. He was in uniform since he was just leaving one shift and headed to another. “My car was low on gas so on the way I stopped at a close gas station.”
He had to go inside to pre-pay. That’s when the suspect entered. “He had his face covered and he went straight up to the security guard and asked him for his money,” says clerk Mary Melgares.
“I think he just got tunnel vision and focused on him and didn’t see me,” Purcell adds.
“When he went to turn around to rob me there was the police officer,” says Melgares.
Purcell says he thought he saw a gun, but wasn’t sure since it all happened in a matter of seconds. That fact would later be confirmed.
“I think he kind of caught a glimpse of me out of the corner of his eye and as soon as he did that, he jetted out of the front door and took off,” says the officer.
The suspect ran out toward the west and got about a half-block away, before Officer Purcell caught up with him on the street.
He says the suspect didn’t stop, so he drew his weapon. Officer Purcell says he eventually tackled Thomas and took him into custody.
“I think that was God,” says Melgares. “I think that was God and I loved every minute of it. They caught him and that’s good.”
“It’s always nice to catch a suspect, I mean it’s always rewarding,” says Officer Purcell.
It was especially rewarding for Melgares, who’s been robbed before. “I love this place. I’ve been here for seven years and you know, suddenly you feel unsafe.”
Now, she says, one more bad guy is off the streets and she has one man to thank, Officer Dusty Purcell. “Thank you for being my angel,” she says.
Thomas was booked for attempted robbery and use of a weapon to commit a felony.