- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ELLENSBURG, WASH. (AP) - It probably happens every day: A man pulls out a gun and tells a convenience store clerk to open the till. But the little girl in a pink jacket standing forlornly by the robber’s side made this crime anything but ordinary.

More than two days after the heartbreaking videotaped holdup in eastern Washington, 9-year-old Meadow Webb was safe in the hands of family friends Thursday in a small town along the Northern California coast more than 650 miles away. Her father, Robert Daniel Webb, narrowly escaped police in Fortuna, Calif., and remained at large.

Police describe Webb, 42, as a man who cared for his daughter but had problems with alcohol and trouble holding a job; at one point his wife had a restraining order against him. He had recently lost his job in the eyeglass industry.

The robber on Tuesday threatened to kill the graveyard shift clerk at an AM/PM convenience store near Ellensburg if he called police, but he also tried to explain himself.

“I’m out of work. My daughter’s got to survive,” he said on the video.

“His eyes were tearing up. This guy’s hurting inside,” the clerk, Eric Owens, told KING-TV. “He started telling me he worked in a place like this for years. He was fired off his job and his daughter needed medical care.”

“He views himself as being in a desperate situation and had no choice,” said Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Myers, after studying the widely viewed surveillance video of the holdup. “He stayed and talked with the clerk. He seemed to be looking for some justification, or some level of understanding from the clerk.”

Later Tuesday, Webb and his daughter were spotted in Yakima, about 45 miles to the southeast. By Wednesday night, they had turned up in Fortuna at an acquaintance’s house where Webb dropped off the girl, said Fortuna police Lt. Bill Dobberstein.

The acquaintance learned Webb was wanted and called police, who were waiting when he returned. But Webb sped away into the darkness just as officers approached him.

The girl’s mother was headed for Fortuna, police said.

“She was surprised that her husband would actually commit a robbery, but once that sunk in, that he had put their daughter in that position, she became very concerned and upset,” Myers said.

In 2007, Webb’s wife won a restraining order against him, saying he drank heavily, tried to choke her and threatened her with a bow and arrow. The order was lifted a few months later.

Webb had most recently lived in Everett, Wash., some 120 miles northwest of Ellensburg, police said. But public records show he had lived in eastern Washington in the past, as well as in Humboldt County, Calif.

His stepmother, Lola Webb, answered the door at her home in Sunnyside, near Yakima, but refused to speak with a reporter from The Associated Press except to confirm that the little girl was safe.

“Yes, thank God for that,” she said.


Associated Press Writers Phuong Le and Doug Esser in Seattle contributed to this report.


NBC “Today Show” clip of surveillance footage: https://tinyurl.com/dml78q

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