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April 10--A man stuck a hunting knife to a 29-year-old woman's back and fled with her purse, her van and her peace of mind.
"Before, I didn't like guns, but now I'm all about getting my (handgun carry) permit," Crystal Diaz said. "I will never again be in a parking lot without some means of protection.
"We work hard for what we have and to just have someone walk up and take it -- it makes me angry."
Life for the West Knoxville mother of two elementary school children has been in upheaval since the 10 p.m.March 30 attack. She said she no longer feels safe in the Kroger parking lot at 4409 Chapman Highway, so she quit her job at the restaurant in the shopping center.
She breaks down in tears for no apparent reason and gives a startled jump when her husband calls her name. Her husband has changed the locks on their doors because their apartment key was on the key ring taken when the thief stole her 2004 Nissan Quest.
"She hasn't slept well since this," said Ricardo Diaz, her husband of seven years.
Crystal Diaz and co-worker Mayra Castro had just left the Cancun Mexican Restaurant and Cantina when they heard loud, angry voices coming from a car parked near the front of the Kroger. Both women assumed the commotion was the result of a domestic quarrel.
Castro, 24, dialed 911 on her cellphone to alert authorities.
Unknown to Diaz and Castro, the man arguing with a woman was a stranger trying to get into her car. The man had approached that 21-year-old woman from Memphis and demanded the keys to her silver BMW. When the woman refused, the man slashed her hand with a knife.
When the man started moving toward Diaz and Castro in the parking lot, Diaz told Castro to discontinue the 911 call. Diaz said she didn't want to anger the man.
As the man moved through the darkened parking lot, Diaz and Castro lost sight of him. They thought he was gone when Diaz opened the door to her van and was saying goodbye to Castro.
"I thought he had already walked by, but he was right behind me," Diaz said.
"He said, 'Give me your purse.' He was so calm, but his voice was scary."
Diaz was startled. She took a step away from the van door and felt the assailant grab her shoulder and jab a knife in her back.
"My eyes went directly to the knife and I screamed," Diaz said.
The attacker yanked the Coach purse from Diaz's shoulder. As he did, Diaz reached for it and dropped her ring of keys to the asphalt.
As Diaz and Castro backed away, the man snatched the key ring off the ground and jumped into the Quest. At first the robber struggled to find the proper key to the van. Then he had difficultly starting the engine.
"I was thinking, 'What if he can't start it, what will he do next?'" Diaz said.
The engine on the van that Diaz' husband had gotten her in May 2013 as a Mother's Day gift roared to life and the robber quickly, but not frantically, left the parking lot.
Diaz finds her mind playing "what if" games about the event: What if her children had been in the van? What if the robber had shoved her into the van and driven off? What if he had stabbed her in the back with the hunting knife.
And she can't stop from thinking about the possible dangers resulting from the theft. The Diaz family's tax records she was preparing to send off were in the van as well as her driver's license, so the couple worries about identity theft.
Since the theft, Diaz's only excursion outside her residence has been to take her children to school.
"I was terrified taking my children to school," she said. "I went in and talked to the principal about it." School administrators, she said, agreed to have teachers escort the couple's children after school until a parent gets them.
Adding to the frustration, Diaz said, is the family was still paying for the van, which has not been located. And she has to continue making insurance payments on the van, which she described as a maroon/burgundy color, but is listed as burnt orange on the vehicle's registration.
Diaz hopes she'll gain a measure of peace if her assailant is captured.
"It wouldn't bother me if he spent the rest of his life behind bars," she said.
"I've never been the victim of a robbery before. I've never had my life threatened before.
"In just a matter of seconds, everything was taken. I don't have a sense of security anymore."
(c)2014 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)
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