Baylor students help police find, arrest armed robbery suspect

By Vivian Roach | Desk Editor, Video by Grace Smith | Broadcast Reporter

Thanks to help from Baylor student witnesses, police officers detained a suspect in an armed robbery Tuesday night.

Waco Police Officer Garen Bynum said officers had been dispatched to a robbery in the 1700 block of South Eighth Street at University Plaza around 10 p.m. Tuesday. During the robbery, a male produced a handgun and stole another man’s wallet. The suspect quickly tried to leave the scene, Bynum said, but was later found and arrested by dumpsters on Fourth Street and Bagby Avenue. Michael Pantoja, 44, was charged with first degree felony aggravated assault in connection with this crime.

A group of Baylor students saw the suspect and described him to the officers at the scene, Bynum said. Police said they were then able to quickly locate the suspect.

The suspect was described as holding a silver and black handgun, wearing a black and white camouflage mask, black hoodie and black pants.

He left all the items used in the robbery behind the dumpster, including the handgun, victim’s wallet and the suspect’s personal cell phone, Bynum said.

“We were able to tie everything back to him specifically and it was all based on the description that the witnesses gave us,” Bynum said. “We are extremely thankful that we had those descriptions and that they were as accurate as they were. And we’re thankful that nobody was injured in this.”

Suspect descriptions are not always as helpful as this one. They may vary so much that a suspect can’t be positively identified right away and taken into custody, he said.

“The fact that we had, number one, students that were willing to talk and, number two, students that gave accurate descriptions of who this person was, all the way down to the logo on this person’s shirt, we were able to easily take them into custody and know that was the person we were looking for,” Bynum said.

Pantoja was registered as homeless by the Waco PD, had priors for assault and robbery, and a history of mental health issues.

In the future, if in the situation in which someone is trying to commit robbery, Bynum advised to not try to fight back since the majority of people don’t carry cash on them anymore and credit cards can be canceled.

“Comply with them and get them away from you as soon as possible,” Bynum said. “Unless they physically stop you, just keep going into your car, into your home, whatever you’re trying to do, just to distance yourself from them. Don’t let them get close enough to you to where you become a victim.”

Bynum said he suggests always traveling in pairs and in well-lit areas.

Joe Phipps Jr., property manager of University Plaza, said that he is going to check all the lighting around the building and the city guard light over the alley where the incident occurred. However, he said the suspect came from a darkened property across from the alley.

“I will contact the property owners who have those properties and make them aware of the issue. Hopefully they will put some lights up on the backs out of their houses and duplexes, light it up more,” Phipps said.

Though I-35 served as a barrier between South Waco and Baylor, there might be an increase in activity now because of the construction, he said.

“Whether you live in a dorm, or whether you live on 12th St. or whether you live on 18th St., you just need to be aware of your surroundings,” Phipps said. “Make sure that all your valuables you don’t leave in your car.”