JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A cellphone stolen at gunpoint from two University of North Florida students at Jacksonville Beach last month was tracked to a Jacksonville home and led to one arrest. A second man -- an ex-convict -- was arrested Wednesday afternoon on armed robbery charges.
According to Jacksonville Beach police, two men in a car robbed the women walking on Seventh Avenue North at 12:40 a.m. July 29. Police said the man in an older Cadillac passed the victims, made a U-turn and returned, where one man with a gun got out and demanded both women hand over their belongings.
The man concealed his face with a piece of cloth, and the victims gave him their cellphones and wallets. He then got back in the car and left.
The two women said they had just left the beach bars and were steps away from their cars parked at a friend's house not even a block away when they were robbed.
"It happened in like 30 seconds," said Kayla Raulerson.
"It just stopped suddenly right next to us and a guy popped out with a gun and put it to Kayla's head and asked us for our belongings," Nicole Robison said. "And it happened so fast that you don't even react, you just kind of try to process what's happening. And we just ran after that, and the guy sped off."
The two women said they're still shaken up but thankful to be alive.
"It was pretty surreal," Robison said. "You don't ever think it's going to happen to you, especially on a street that you're very familiar with where all your friends live. And it was pretty early in the night, too. It wasn't some crazy hour. But nothing like that had ever happened to me before, so it was just really eye-opening."
A "Find My Phone" app on Robison's iPhone allowed investigators to track the phone five days later to a home on Dubois Drive on Jacksonville's Westside, where Jacksonville police assisted Jacksonville Beach detectives in recovering stolen property belonging to one of the victims.
"Fortunately, with the new cutting-edge technology and the assets that are available to law enforcement, we were able to track down people's property a lot easier and a lot faster," Jacksonville Beach police spokesman Thomas Bingham said.
Police said they identified the resident, Joshua Johnson, as the man holding the gun in the robbery. Detectives said Johnson, 20, made a full confession and was arrested and booked into the Duval County Jail on two counts of armed robbery.
Detectives identified the driver of the car as 35-year-old Thomas Fryer and arrested him Wednesday afternoon after issuing a warrant and a $1 million bond. Police said Fryer is a convicted felon with a history of more than two-dozen arrests, including crimes involving weapons and drugs.
"The compelling question is with this long established rap sheet that he has and his history of violent crimes, his history of using weapons in crimes, why is he out on the streets enjoying freedom?" Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said.
The two women are at ease knowing both men are now in custody, but with the terrifying event replaying in their minds, they say they'll think twice about walking anywhere at night.
"I'm definitely more aware of my surroundings," Robison said. "I'm not going anywhere by myself or at dark times or anything, but taking cabs and making sure what's around me and being very aware."