Jewelers row abduction has Philly business owners on guard

 A 54-year-old worker at National Watch and Diamond was kidnapped from the parking garage across the street, robbed, and dumped in a cemetery. (Steve Trader/WHYY)

A 54-year-old worker at National Watch and Diamond was kidnapped from the parking garage across the street, robbed, and dumped in a cemetery. (Steve Trader/WHYY)

The mood was somber in Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row diamond district Monday morning.

Business owners were still reeling from the news of an area jewelry store worker who was abducted from a nearby Center City parking garage Saturday after work, brutally assaulted and robbed of cash, then dropped in a Darby Borough cemetery later that night.

“It’s alarming,” said Lance Besaw, who owns Diamonte Jewelers, across the street from National Watch and Diamond where the victim works. “It’s always a fear that you have that something like that could happen, but you never really expect it to. This affects everyone.”

He said he usually tries to follow precautions such as having workers leave in pairs. On Saturday, he closed his shop and walked to the same parking garage in the 700 block of Chestnut Street as the victim, not long after 4 p.m. when she was kidnapped.

Frank Schaffer, who owns FGS Gems just around the corner from National Watch and Diamond, said he hasn’t let his workers park in that garage since his car was broken into there five years ago.

One of his employees, Constance Palalai, said she’s usually on high alert during the day, but it’s easy to let your guard down after hours.

“When you walk out of a diamond store, you’re always on high alert,” said Palalai. “But by the time you get to the parking garage, you’re probably not thinking about it as much.You’re thinking, ‘I made it, I’m done.'”

Palalai, who has worked in Philadelphia for just six months, has been  in the industry for five years. The first few months, she said, are full of cautions, but after a few years you get more comfortable.

“It’s easy to forget that the goods you deal with every day are worth millions,” said Palalai. “What’s worse, other people assume that you’re carrying more goods than maybe you have, or assume you have money because you work in diamonds and gemstones. Even when you’re not carrying, you’re still at risk.”

Schaffer, for his part, said he would be escorting his employees to their cars after work.

Steven Singer, owner of Steven Singer Jewelers, has run the Jewelers Row Association since the 1980s. Multiple safeguards, including both uniformed and undercover police patrol units and 24-hour surveillance cameras, make it one of the safest blocks in the city.

“There’s nothing we’re going to do to prevent everything in every instance, but we do our best to always keep our guard up,” said Singer.

A few female jewelers were not quite so philosophical.  One manager, who asked to remain nameless, said she was “absolutely terrified.” Another said she couldn’t sleep at all Sunday night after hearing the news of the abduction in broad daylight.

The identity of the 54-year-old victim has still not been released by Philadelphia police, but she told them Saturday that around 4 p.m., as she walked to her car after work, three men pulled her into a Ford Econoline van, demanded the keys to the store and the codes to the safe — which she did not have. They put a hood over her head and assaulted her, used her ATM card to steal $200, then left her in Darby Borough. She was treated for her injuries Saturday night at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

“It’s a small enough community for everybody to know who’s who,” said Palalai. “But, it’s not that hard for other locals to know that too. I don’t scare easily, but what worries me most is getting comfortable and thinking that it’s safe because it’s what you do every day.”

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