First it was an increase in home burglaries, then a series of shootings involving police officers. Now, Pueblo is experiencing a rise in armed robberies.
Since New Year's Eve, police said, there have been ten hold-ups -- three involving individuals and seven involving businesses. No one was hurt during the crimes, police said, and robberies rose 8 percent between 2011 and 2012.
The most recent holdups happened Monday. Police said a suspect used a rifle to rob J.R.'s Country Store near Interstate 25 and Abriendo Avenue, and the Fashion Hotline clothing store on Northern Avenue was robbed.
Police say the trend began on Dec. 30, when someone used a machete in a holdup at Pueblo Records & Tapes on Pueblo Boulevard. Two days later, the Smoker Friendly tobacco store across the street was robbed.
Elaine Mascarenas was working at Smoker Friendly when it happened.
"He just ran towards me waving a gun," she said. "He told me to give him the money. He took some cartons of cigarettes, too. I was praying to God that he wouldn't shoot me. I still haven't gotten over it."
Police said they aren't sure whether one suspect, or several, is involved. But police said in most cases, the suspect wears a mask, has his head covered with a hood, and carries a handgun. Police seek the public's help to find who's responsible for the crimes.
"We don't have any information on a vehicle that this person is possibly running into, or if he's taking off on foot, or if somebody's driving him away, or if somebody's waiting for him outside," said Sgt. Eric Gonzales. "But he's disappearing pretty quick."
Three more businesses were robbed, all along U.S. 50 -- a Subway restaurant near the Troy Avenue intersection; Adolfo's Mexican restaurant near the Outlook Boulevard intersection; and a nearby Dairy Queen.
Police said they have surveillance video from some of the robbed businesses, but the images aren't clear enough to make identifying a suspect easy. Recent shootings and burglaries keep officers busy and unable to devote more resources to solving the robberies, police said.
Contact Pueblo police if you have any information about the recent robberies.