SEATTLE - The words home invasion robbery can’t begin to describe what happened.
"Came down, there's a gun," said 68-year-old El. “'Don’t move, don’t move!'”
The news reports can't begin to convey the trauma.
"Please don't kill me, period. Just stay calm," El said as she re-lived her experience for KING 5 at Seattle Police Headquarters.
El is surprisingly calm as she tells her story. Just hours earlier, she feared she might not survive the day. We are not using her full name because of concerns for her safety.
“There was a mild, gentle knock on the door,” El said, demonstrating by rapping her knuckles on the table inside a police interview room. “I was in my bedroom, thought, 'God, someone’s at the door.'”
El hesitated because it was 2:45 in the morning. “And I thought, ‘who is it?’ And when they said something again, I thought, 'Oh God, it's Michael,' and opened door and there was a gun in my face."
Michael is her neighbor’s son. He was living with El and was in a bedroom with his girlfriend.
"She (the girlfriend) heard me go 'Oh!' I didn’t think I yelled, but I guess I did, loud enough that she said 'Go see what's wrong with El!'"
The gunman ordered all three of them to lie down.
“He came to me first. Then, he duct-taped my legs, my hands behind my back, my mouth and my eyes,” El said.
El wasn’t sure how many men were in her house but she could hear sounds of frantic searching.
"I just kept thinking, 'Jesus. God, just don't shoot us. Just let us be,'" she said.
The robbers grabbed computers, TVs, jewelry, credit cards, but they wanted more. El said one told her “I don't want to have to hurt you guys.” She thought, “Thank God he doesn't have the idea to kill us. All we have to do is cooperate.”
El said she tried to cooperate, but when they found the safe in her closet she fumbled the code.
She told them, "I can't make it work, I'm trying really hard, please,” and the robbers were angry because she wasn’t opening the safe.
They made her try again and this time the safe opened to a treasure trove. El says they cleaned out "all the guns, and the knives and all my jewelry and everything that was in there.” Many of the guns were powerful rifles used to kill elephants and big game - guns collected by her husband years ago.
But El says the robbers still weren’t satisfied. They demanded the PIN to her bank card, loaded everything into her two cars and drove off.
“I would have given them anything they wanted anything. They could have taken everything in that house and I wouldn't give a damn,” El said. “As far as I was concerned the three bodies on the floor were the only priority that was there … and we’re all alive.”
After the robbers fled, El and the others got free and called 911. El was checked out by medics before being taken to the Seattle Police Department Robbery Unit to meet with detectives. She struggles to remember everything that was stolen. Her jewelry alone is worth more than $12,000.
Before El was even finished being interviewed by police, the robbery detectives were following their first big lead. Someone used El's ATM card and his picture was captured by the surveillance camera.
When police show the photo to El, she recognized him.
"That is him!” she says, tapping her finger on the surveillance photo.
“You’re positive?” asked Detective Brad Craig.
“I'm positive. Proof positive. Do you know who he is?" El asked?
"No,” responded Detective Craig, “We're working on that.”
He reassures El that she can go home. The robbery unit is giving her case top priority.
“I stayed alive and that’s the important thing,” El said.
KING 5 agreed not to air El’s interview until police had suspects behind bars and she felt safe. Monday, two men charged with committing the robbery at her home went before a King County Superior Court judge.
Prosecutors say 27-year-old George Augustine Jr. is a possible “three strikes” candidate who could be looking at a life sentence. 35-year-old Sean Oie has multiple convictions for drugs and theft. Both men pleaded not guilty and are being held on $1 million bail.
To see where crimes are happening in Seattle, visit http://www.seattle.gov/POLICE/CRIME/