Horsing Around's customers are "kicking up their heels" after Melanie Armstrong fended off an attacker at her tack shop. stock photo
A career criminal chose the wrong Florida retailer for an armed robbery when he walked into an English tack store owned by a long-time horsewoman. Melanie Armstrong explains how fighting back saved her life.
Armstrong owns Horsing Around, in Cooper City, where she was violently attacked last Thursday. “I didn’t want him to get away with it so he could do it again to someone else,” says Armstrong.
Armstrong says a middle-aged man looked through Horsing Around’s window and then came into the tack store. He browsed the back of her store that supplies English riding apparel and horse products to area residents. Girths, breeches, and horse bits are usually a draw for Armstrong’s customers, but she says the man didn’t look out of place.
It was his next move that would change everything. “He moved closer then lunged at me and shoved a gun at my head. He demanded money from the register,” Armstrong recalls.
“I smacked the gun away from my head and then I’m thinking – that didn’t feel like a real gun.”
Armstrong says the perp was getting angrier, shoving the gun at her head and screaming he wanted money. When she told him there was no cash, she says he picked her up off the ground by her throat and held her against the wall.
The man, possibly high on adrenaline, drugs, or alcohol, Armstrong adds, carried her by her neck to the bathroom. “He kept repeating over and over again, ‘That’s it, you’re going to take your clothes off’.”
Armstrong violently kicked at the man’s groin, which eventually ended the callous assault. “He told me to lock myself in the bathroom, which I was glad to do.”
Armstrong waited 20 seconds before fleeing to the entrance to find her alleged attacker walking across the parking lot. “I couldn’t believe he wasn’t running away,” she says. A person from a neighboring business photographed his truck and 911 was called.
Armstrong later picked her assailant out of a photo line-up.
Authorities arrested David Heaton who confessed to the incident Friday night. Heaton has not been charged, although he is being held without bond. Heaton has previous convictions for robbery, attempted robbery, and armed burglary. He has served multiple stints in prison and was most recently released in 2014.
“I’m a single mom and I work hard. I was damned if I was going to give it up to some scum bag,” explains Armstrong. “I was not going to be a victim.”
And that gun, we now know it was a BB gun.
Armstrong says mentally she is getting back to normal after being “all over the place”. Her body is healing and she says she is okay.
Armstrong says she hopes others operating tack stores can learn from her experience since many are women also working alone in their stores. “Don’t think it won’t happen to you.”
Research shows most criminals tend to look for victims they perceive as easy prey – weak, submissive and unlikely to fight back.
Armstrong has implemented some new safety procedures at Horsing Around. Although retailers are typically known for having people always coming and going, she says she has her business door locked. A notice is posted outside informing customers that the business is open and to knock for service. Armstrong says she is considering implementing a buzzer system, like some high-end retailers.
Additionally, she has added mace to her supplies and is considering an in-store panic button. Armstrong says carrying a gun isn’t for her, but she says she understands some may want to arm themselves.
Horsing Around does have video surveillance in the shop, although a glitch prevented it from capturing her assault. Armstrong recommends if you have cameras make sure they are working properly.
And while Armstrong’s fearless approach may not be for everyone, she says go with your gut, but cautions, “I didn’t have a gut reaction until he had a gun at my head.”