Jessica Pink single-handedly foiled the attempted theft of about $2,000 worth of lawn and garden equipment from The Home Depot on June 20.
She was recognized July 18 with a rarely given Civilian Hero Award by the Chief of Elk River Police Ron Nierenhausen at an Elk River City Council meeting.
The Elk River woman works as a vendor two to three days a week supplying and caring for perennials at the home improvement store.
Nierenhausen learned of Pink’s heroics from Elk River Mayor John Dietz, who relayed Pink’s story that he heard at Rivers Edge Commons Park. The chief looked up the incident report and read with amazement, he said.
The chief shared the particulars of the incident from the June 20 report on file at the police department. He also prefaced his remarks with the old adage: ‘Kids, don’t do this at home.’
“I couldn’t believe the courage she had,” he told the council and a room with a handful of developers, a volunteer of the month recipient and her family as well as the Elk River Chamber of Commerce executive director and two residents who raised concerns about traffic safety in their neighborhood.
Pink risked her own safety out of love for her community while pursuing a suspected shoplifter out of the store and went as far as hopping into the bed of his truck to deter his getaway plan. Pink, who measures just five feet tall, explained the ordeal in great detail after the meeting.
“I’m pretty agile,” said the former gymnast who graduated from Monticello High School in 1997 and was a state champ in the uneven bars that year. “I’m also pretty daring. I’ll pretty much do anything.”
Pink is no wall flower.
She competed in gymnastics for two decades, including a few years collegiately, and ran marathons after her time at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Clare.
Her college gymnastics team, the Blugolds, finished fifth at nationals during Pink’s senior season due in no small part to the four-year letter winner and record-breaking effort by the whole team.
Over the last decade health issues have hindered her, and they were compounded by COVID-19. Her bout with the coronavirus led to liver and kidney failure before she began to recover.
“When you’re an athlete your whole life and it’s taken from you it’s hard,” she said.
Pink is getting stronger again, and it’s apparent her courage and drive to do what’s right in the face of adversity and even danger has not waned.
The foiled theft
Pink was tending to her company’s perennials at The Home Depot on June 20 when she all of a sudden heard a cashier say: “Sir, did you pay for that?”
Pink says she was about 10 feet away and made eye contact with the clerk and asked her if he had paid, and she shook her head no.
“So I said, ‘Sir, I think you should show her your receipt,’” Pink said. “I said it multiple times. He just kept pushing the cart. He was wearing a COVID-type mask.”
The clerk asked her to get a license plate. She quickened her pace and another witness came out saying, “That’s stealing,” to the fleeing man.
Pink assessed the situation as she followed.
“The first thing I thought was I’m not letting Elk River, my city that I love, turn into Minneapolis or California,” she said. “I knew The Home Depot employees couldn’t do anything. I’m not a Home Depot employee. I can just tell my work to take me off the clock and I am just doing this as a voluntary citizen, ... because it was the right thing to do.”
As they got to his truck he ripped the license plate off on the rear of his truck.
“I was trying to get out my phone to take a picture and call the police,” she said.
Pink concluded the guy was a professional, and she decided there’s no way she could let him get away with this.
“He threw all this stuff in his truck, and I said to myself, he can’t go far through this city with a girl in the back of his truck,” she said. “So I jumped in the back of the truck, and he starts backing up and sees that I am in the back of the truck. I started yelling: ‘If you’re going somewhere, you’re taking me with you.’ I started screaming at The Home Depot to call 911. He tears out of the parking lot heading toward Walmart and then he starts driving erratically. ‘OK, what are you thinking, you’re going to flip your truck to get me out? You’re stupid.’ I just kept yelling to anybody (within earshot) to call 911.”
She figures she finally made enough noise when the guy pulled into a parking space, got out of the truck and started throwing the stuff out. Both went for the license plate. Pink recalls getting it first, but the man ripped it out of her hand.
“I saw it and made a mental note,” she said. “He said, ‘Get out of my bleeping truck.’”
Pink got out.
“I said ‘thank you’ as he took off,” she recalls.
The police arrived and took a report before returning the goods over to the home improvement store. In all, the items rang up to more than $2,000. Officers were not able to get a match on the plate, but they are still hopeful to make an arrest, Nierenhausen said.
Pink, who turns 43 years old this week, said she doesn’t need the award for what she did. She does, however, hope people follow the lead of people like her and others who step up for their community. She believes if you see something, you say something.
“I am one of those people who will do what’s right,” she said. “I will speak what’s right and I have a strong moral and Catholic faith and trust in God.
“I just want people to make an investment in their city. Like the people (in the council meeting at open forum) speaking about their roadway. I want people involved in their community. I just want people to stand up for what’s right. If you love your city, don’t let it go to waste. The minute you let violence or criminals run amok, you lose it, and it’s hard to get it back.”
Nierenhausen didn’t advocate for citizens to hop in the truck beds of suspected thieves. He did, however, encourage people to call 911 and report such occurrences with information like license plate numbers.
“Her actions, albeit dangerous, are above and beyond the expectations and should be duly recognized,” the chief said.