Crime & Courts

Anchorage store owner disarms woman with gun, knife in robbery attempt

An Anchorage cigarette store owner facing her first-ever armed robbery said Friday she stopped feeling fear after disarming the attacker of a gun and then a knife.

Young Jun, 39, said her first indication that 33-year-old Tonya Holler wasn't an ordinary customer was the moment she reached into her purse and pulled out a pistol.

"I asked if the gun is real and she said, 'Yes, yes!'" Jun said, mimicking the weapon being pointed in her face.

Holler, who was arraigned in the Anchorage jail at 2:30 p.m. Friday, calmly answered a judge's questions about her personal finances.

A judge assigned a public defender to represent Holler, with the bail from her Thursday charges being consolidated across two previous robberies she's accused of. A ban on contact with any of the three businesses she allegedly robbed, or their employees, was also added to her release conditions.

Oistad said in a statement Friday that Holler entered the store and pretended to shop briefly but "produced a handgun from her purse and demanded that the owner of the shop give her the money in the cash drawer."

"The owner put her hands up and stepped back from the counter," Oistad reported. "Holler came around the counter and began taking money from the cash drawer. The owner grabbed the weapon and attempted to control it. They struggled but the owner eventually took the gun and threw it out onto the store floor."

At that point, Oistad said, Holler pulled a large hunting knife from her purse and "attempted to stab the owner."

"The owner grabbed the knife as well and they struggled for some time over control of the knife," Oistad wrote. "The owner gained control of the knife, threw it out on the store floor, and then pinned Holler against the countertop."

After the owner triggered the store's silent alarm and yelled for help, people from nearby businesses entered the store and helped restrain Holler until officers arrived.

Oistad said Holler had also been sought on outstanding warrants in two previous armed robberies that had targeted coffee shops, including Kodiak Kup on Arctic Boulevard on Sept. 16 and Aftershock Espresso at on 36th Avenue on Nov. 6. No injuries were reported in those cases, with Holler allegedly using a similar pattern in each one.

"She used a gun on all of them," Oistad said. "It was pretty much produce a gun, demand (cash) and drive off."

At Smokes 4 Less Friday afternoon, Jun remembered the encounter as unfolding very quickly.

"I pushed the emergency button," Jun said. "She said, 'Did you hit the emergency button or not?' and I said no."

At one point after disarming Holler, Jun said she had the suspect under her own gun.

"I'm pointing at her, but she's not scared," Jun said. "I'm scared of guns and didn't know how to use it, so I dropped the gun -- and she takes out her knife right away."

During the scuffle with the knife, Jun said she forced Holler to jam the blade's tip into the back wall of a display case behind the shop's counter. The scar left on the panel was readily visible to visitors Friday afternoon.

Holler also threatened Jun during the encounter, Jun said.

"She said she has (her) husband and friend in the car, and they'll kill me," Jun said. "I say, 'I don't care;' I just didn't feel scared at that point."

When Jun was able to get the upper hand in the fight, she said Holler began screaming, "Let me go! Let me go!" and saying that she couldn't breathe until officers arrived.

"Even when police came in, I couldn't calm down." Jun said. "I see robberies on the news and I think it's not my problem, but now I see that this is not true."

Jun's husband Ikje Choi, 42, said that although Smokes 4 Less has seen break-ins since he and Jun took over the store three years ago, Thursday was the first armed robbery he or his wife had seen in their lives.

Choi said Jun took lessons in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do from the age of 6 with the encouragement of her father, a retired police officer in Korea. Since then, Choi -- himself a tae kwon do instructor -- has been giving Jun pointers.

"My father-in-law said his children -- my wife -- need to protect themselves," Choi said.

Kodiak Kup owner Frank Bailey, a former aide to Gov. Sarah Palin whose manuscript for a tell-all biography of her leaked in 2011, showed up at Smokes 4 Less Friday to give Jun a basket of flowers on behalf of staff from both his coffee shop and Aftershock Espresso.

"You're just awesome," Bailey told Jun. "You did a brave thing."

Oistad said only minor injuries were reported as a result of the fight.

"It looks like the suspect, during the struggle, she may have suffered some lacerations to her hand," Oistad said.

Despite the outcome of Thursday's incident, Oistad emphasized that police don't recommend confronting an armed robber.

"We're always going to recommend that you comply with a robber's demands," Oistad said.

Holler was initially held without bail at the Anchorage jail on Friday morning on the warrants from the previous robberies. Her bail on the new charges, which were consolidated across all three cases in court Friday, included a $25,000 appearance bond, a $3,000 performance bond and a court-approved third-party custodian required for release.

Alexa Gilbert, 22, was the manager on duty at Kodiak Kup when Holler allegedly robbed the stand as a walk-up customer in September. Gilbert, who attended Holler's arraignment, said she was "anxious" Friday afternoon, but glad to know she was off the streets.

"She pretty much just tapped the window and asked for a Red Bull," Gilbert said. "When I turned around, she had a gun out and was asking for the money."

After the robbery, Gilbert locked the windows and called both 911 and Bailey to report the robbery. Although the stand had a security system, Bailey said the hard drive to which it recorded video failed, forcing police to use surveillance video from a nearby business instead.

Gilbert said she previously worked at Common Grounds Espresso -- the same chain as the Tudor Road coffee shack from which barista Samantha Koenig, 19, was abducted and killed by confessed serial killer Israel Keyes before his Anchorage Jail suicide.

"I worked there before she was kidnapped," Gilbert said.

Since Sept. 16, Gilbert said, she's refused to serve walk-up patrons at the Kodiak Kup and taken steps to protect herself.

"I keep my window locked at all times," Gilbert said. "I now carry, and it's on the counter with me."

Bailey also installed a new security system at Kodiak Kup to replace the one with the failed hard drive.

"We know how to use it now," Bailey said, laughing.

Choi said police seized the recorder from the surveillance system in place for video evidence against Holler, but a newer system is also covering his shop.

"I just bought it today," Choi said.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.