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Other victims' nightmares rush back
By Terrence Hackett | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:39 PM

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Originally published Jan. 11, 1993

Two weeks ago, fast-food restaurant manager Katie Reynolds was near tears while a man held a gun to her temple and ordered her to kneel before a safe, open it and stuff bundles of money into a brown bank bag.

She and two co-workers at a Des Plaines Taco Bell were closing up when they were confronted in the early-morning hours Dec. 19 by three gunmen.

"I just kept begging for my life," said Reynolds, painfully recounting the robbery. "I kept begging him, please don't kill me, please don't hurt me. And one of the other guys behind me kept saving, 'Don't worry.'"

But Reynolds did worry. She worried as she stuffed the money into the bag. She worried as the three men walked her at gunpoint to the rear of the restaurant. And she worried even more as one grabbed her by the hair and threw her into a walk-in cooler with her co-workers.

"I thought they were going to kill us," Reynolds said. But the robbers ran off. Their take was about $1,000," she said.

Those recent memories were rekindled all over again this weekend when Reynolds learned of the murders of seven employees of a Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in nearby Palatine.

"I was sick all day Saturday,'' said Reynolds, 43. "And when I went into work this morning, one of my co-workers said to me, 'That could have been you, and maybe next time it will be you.'"

Reynolds' fear - which has her convinced she needs counseling because she is afraid to stay home alone and trembles when groups of men enter Taco Bell - is not uncommon among fast-food restaurant employees.

They feel vulnerable because they are open late and everyone knows they have cash.

"Everyone is kind of worried, but what can you do?" said the manager of a Mount Prospect Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers Restaurant who asked not to be named.

That Wendy's, at 1900 S. Elmhurst Road, was held up twice in 1990 by gunmen who, as in the Palatine shootings, forced employees at gunpoint into the cooler. No one in Mount Prospect, however, was hurt.

"You can't control everything," the manager said. "You can close the doors and windows, but that's about all you can do."

Local police departments agree that fast-food places are targeted on occasion by robbers looking for quick cash. But investigators handling the Palatine murders have refused to discuss the motive.

The Palatine case seems unusual, others say, because robbers simply looking for money tend to better their odds by going to all-night gas stations or convenience stores.

"It's kind of strange because of the number of people in the (Brown's) store," said Sgt. Ted Adamczyk of the Mount Prospect Police Department.

"It seems they usually hit a place where they have one person working the midnight shift because they'd be more vulnerable."

For Katie Reynolds, the key to robbers' holdup seemed to be the 3 a.m. time. She now refuses to close the restaurant.

"They were really cocky," she said. "They knew they had all the time in the world, and no one was going to bother them."