The first surveillance image police released of Amanda Downing was not clear. They were trying to identify the grainy figure after a Williston shopper accused the woman of swiping her purse from a grocery cart. Tips from the public helped police identify the 37-year-old Winooski woman. But they didn't know where she was until she struck again. Downing was arrested last weekend after targeting the wrong woman at the Hannaford in Burlington.
"It was amazing to me just how many of the bystanders or the good Samaritans intervened on behalf of this older woman who had her purse taken from her and she actually yelled, 'Stop, thief!'" Burlington Police Cpl. Tom Chenette said.
Several shoppers rushed to her rescue. The surveillance video shows one pushing Downing against the produce while another wrestles away the stolen purse.
"We don't typically recommend that people physically engage these types of suspects," Chenette said. "Typically they're desperate as in this case. It was motivated by drugs."
Chenette says Downing is an IV drug user who commonly carries needles on her. She has a lengthy criminal record, mostly drug and driving offenses related to her addiction.
Police say it was a quick-thinking pharmacist, however, who helped put her behind bars.
"What the pharmacist did is what we certainly would recommend where he followed her outside. He obtained the license plate of the car which was eventually able to crack the investigation open," Chenette said.
Several police agencies had been looking for Downing. Investigators say she's behind seven similar purse snatchings at supermarkets in Chittenden and Washington counties last month.
Chenette says there are a few simple steps shoppers can take to keep their purses safe.
"Carry it on you, preferably slung over your shoulder, would be best," Chenette said. "Purses that are able to zip or have some kind of a latch to keep them closed as opposed to a bag that can be easily reached into from behind and just be aware of your surroundings."
Downing has been charged with multiple purse snatchings. She's being held for lack of $10,000 bail.