The live coverage was terrifying. A gunman, holding a bank teller hostage outside of the Capital One Bank in Takoma Park, Maryland. Two years after that frightening morning, bank employee Diana Vera is still recovering from the traumatic experience.
She was in her office, just to the right of the front door, when the suspect walked in, and she immediately sensed something was wrong.
"It had snowed that week, so normally our customers would take off their hats and gloves and this person didn't," she says. "That's what caught my eye."
Moments later, 43-year-old Carlos Espinoza pulled out a gun and demanded cash. Vera was the only one present who spoke Spanish and could communicate with him. She says he yanked her by the hair and put a gun to her head.
Vera says he told her, "Do as I say and you won't get killed."
She says, "I kept repeating to him, ‘I have a grandson, I have a grandson."'
As employees scrambled to bring the robber a bag filled with cash, police began arriving at the scene.
"He saw we were surrounded," Vera says. "I thought he would shoot me, shoot the other girl, and shoot himself because he was not getting out of there."
Fortunately, none of the victims lost their lives. Espinoza grabbed a bank teller, held a gun to her head and walked her outside.
When he slipped on a patch of ice, she took off running and police shot and killed him on the spot.
Vera says it was the thought of her family that helped her get through the ordeal, but ironically, in the days and months that followed, the trauma took a toll on her children as well.
"I was not affectionate," she says. "I was enclosed in my room. It affects everybody that's close to you."
She didn't leave her house for three months.
"[I was] checking the windows, making sure he's not out there, where in my mind, I know he's dead," Vera says. "They had to defend us and that was the only way they could do it, but at times, I feel he's still present."
Vera has not been able to return to the shopping center since the incident two years ago. She still works for the bank, but she has been relocated to an office where she no longer works with the public.
She says she is still seeking closure. She teared up, saying, "God forgive me for saying this, but I have not been able to forgive him. There are times where your mood is great, you're moving on, and there are times when the days are not so great."
She has found focusing on helping others through charity work to be therapeutic, and she doesn't take anything for granted.
"Our lives could have ended that day, but God said, ‘No, you're staying down there, you still have some work to get done,"' says Vera. "That's what I'm doing. I'm doing the best I can."
She is now looking into starting a support group for victims of similar traumatic experiences.
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