Palo Alto shoppers robbed at gunpoint in mall parking lot

Palo Alto police are investigating an armed robbery at a shopping center involving five suspects and their two cars, near the Stanford University campus.

Detectives say the suspects, armed with guns, ski masks and gloves, surrounded a man and woman Wednesday afternoon, after they returned to their car from shopping. It happened in the parking lot of Nordstrom at the Stanford Shopping Center about 2 p.m.

Police say the two victims, both in their 30's, became blocked into their parking space by a white Dodge Challenger and a white Audi sedan.

Two armed men exited the Audi and approached the passenger side where the female victim was sitting, according to police. A gun was pointed at her by one of the suspects and the other grabbed her purse.

"It’s certainly brazen and it’s certainly concerning to us," said Lt. James Reifschneider. "The male victim in this case tried to come to the aid of the other victim when he saw the weapons. When that happened is when an additional group of suspects presented themselves."

Police say a struggle ensued between the other three armed men and the male victim. He had his necklace ripped off, they demanded his watch and attempted to rip it off his wrist, and one of the suspects punched him in the head.

The victim only suffered minor injuries and managed to avoid losing his watch.

But investigators say the crimes didn’t end with robbery and assault.

As the suspects tried to speed away they encountered traffic on Sand Hill Road near Arboretum Drive. The driver of the Dodge began honking to try to get traffic to move. 

When that didn’t work, police say he intentionally accelerated and rammed into the back of a pick-up truck to create a path for both cars to escape.

Police say this white Dodge Challenger with black hood was used by armed suspects in the robbery and assault of a couple at a Palo Alto shopping center.

Detectives are searching surveillance video to better identify the cars and the suspects. So far, only a single photo of the Dodge Challenger with a black hood has been released.

Early indications suggest this was a crime of opportunity at a busy shopping center largely considered safe.

"This type of activity is rare." Lt. Reifschneider said. "I think people should take comfort in that."

But these armed robberies targeting expensive watches and high-end jewelry are not unique to Palo Alto. They’re becoming more common around the Bay Area.

Shoppers say they’re already changing their habits to avoid becoming a victim.

"I think it’s crazy. It doesn’t make me worried, it makes me conscious," said Carolyn of Palo Alto. "Maybe I will take off my jewelry and be a little more thoughtful about my surroundings."

Detectives are trying to determine if this armed robbery is connected with others crimes in the area.

Once identified and arrested, the suspects could face felony charges including robbery, conspiracy, and assault with a deadly weapon for intentionally ramming another vehicle.

Anyone with information about the incident should call Palo Alto police at 650-329-2413 or email

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU