"48 Hours Mystery:" Show Me the Money

Strapped with Dynamite, a Woman Robs a Bank to Save her Daughter Held Hostage by a Team of Gunmen

It was at her hillside home in Vista, Calif., where Michelle Renee once felt happiest.

"I lived in my dream house, pretty much. It was on top of a hill, it was overlooking the ocean."

Michelle, 35, was a divorced, single mother who was raising her daughter, Breea, and working full time as a bank manager.

"I felt very safe. I felt like we were far away," she said of her home's remote location. That is until that awful night nine years ago when the three masked men charged through her back door.

"And everything just was slow motion in that moment. It was like it wasn't real," she explained to "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Susan Spencer.

The masked men pointed their guns at Michelle and Breea.

"I was just begging for her life," Michelle said. "Please don't hurt her. Please don't hurt her."

"I heard my daughter say, 'Are you gonna kill my mommy? And - are you going to kill me?' And they said, 'No, not if your mommy does everything that we tell her to do,'" Michelle was recorded telling the FBI following the break-in. "They said, 'Do you know why we're here?' I said, 'No, I have nothing. Why are you here?'"

It turns out this was not just some random crime.

"We've been following you for weeks. We know everything about you. We know you have a roommate. When she's coming home?" Michelle said, repeating what one of the masked men told her.

And most important of all, they knew where she worked.

"We know you're the bank manager…That's why we're here. Because you're going to get us the money out of the vault [of] that bank or you're going to die," she repeated.

The intruders turned off all the lights. They duct taped Michelle and Breea's wrists and ankles and then dumped them on the couch.

Michelle said they were threatened all night long. "It was like I was counting the minutes to the end of my life," she said.

At 11p.m., Renee's roommate, Kimbra, came home. The gunmen overpowered her; they duct taped her and dragged her next to Michelle.

"At that point, they were really, really graphic with their sexual talk, super - bad," Michelle explained to the FBI.

Michelle said it was always clear which of the three men was in charge.

"He was sort of giving the orders. And he was really in control. And he was the one with the walkie-talkie radio," she told Spencer.

At one point, Michelle heard a female voice over the walkie talkie. She said she recognized it immediately. "It just clicked."

Michelle said the voice belonged to a customer who'd been in the bank with her boyfriend earlier in the day.

And when a light was briefly turned on, she got a glimpse of the ring leader.

"I knew those eyes the second I could see them," she said.

Michelle said she knew the man behind the mask was the boyfriend.

"I think I know who these people are… And it just clicked in that I started paying attention to, like, everything," she said.

The next morning, the gunmen strapped sticks of dynamite to their hostages.

"'If I push the button, all three of you disintegrate. If you try to take it off yourself, you're the only one that's gonna blow," Michelle told the FBI.

Then they tied Michelle's roommate and shoved her down on the bed. They had duct taped her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her feet.

Breea was pushed into a closet and Michelle was given one last chance to say goodbye to her daughter; she prayed not the last.

"The weight of their lives was enormous for me," Michelle said. "I just told [Breea] she was everything - everything I'd ever wanted. That she was perfect and that we're a team. And she said, 'Just be brave, Mommy…' She's like, 'I know you're coming back, Mommy. I know you're gonna come back.'"

Michelle recalled the ringleader was crouched behind the driver's seat, aiming a gun at her back as she drove to work - the dynamite hidden under her jacket.

"Every step I took with that dynamite was like a tick of a bomb. Every second," she said.

"I can't mess up. I can't make one wrong turn in my car," Michelle said. "I've got to do everything right if we have any chance of saving anybody's lives."

The gunmen had warned her not to make any phone calls or to call the police - they would be watching everything. When she got to the bank, Michelle parked in her usual spot.

Loretta Myers was already at work when a subdued Michelle walked into the bank.

"She came into the branch and she was very stoic… just off-center. It just wasn't like her. She's a vivacious, bubbly, outgoing kind of a person," Myers said.

Michelle said she was trying to act normal, but was counting the minutes until the money was delivered.

"I knew what I had to do… and that's all I could think about," she said.

At 8:50 a.m., an armored truck finally arrived.

"And all the money is now in the vault. And that's the cue. I grabbed my briefcase. I went to the vault," Michelle explained.

"It was extremely odd." Myers said with a laugh, "Never have I ever seen anybody take anything other than a pen and keys into the vault. Never."

For security, the bank required two people be in the vault to take out any money, so Michelle had to ask one of the tellers to join her. Once inside the vault, Michelle told her what had happened.

"She started panicking and going, 'Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. She couldn't speak," Michelle said. "And I lifted up my shirt and I said, 'Look what's on my back. I'm going to blow up if I'm not out of here in 5 minutes. You need to help me. I have to rob the bank.'"

Michelle took a duffel bag out of her briefcase and within minutes, she'd cleaned out the vault.

"And I just remember my hand reaching for the money and stuffing the duffel bag. And I just said, 'Do not call the police. If you call the police, we're dead.'"

"She came out of the vault with her - satchel. And kind of like an odd look on her face," Myers recalled. "And she told me she had an appointment to go to… And she briskly walked out of the branch."

Just after 9 a.m., as the bank opened, Michelle walked out with $360,000.

"I robbed a bank to save our lives," she told Spencer.

The gunman directed Michelle to a nearby apartment complex.

"He let me out of the Jeep. I was to walk back to where my Jeep would be waiting. And then I was to go straight home."

Then he took off with the money, leaving Michelle with dynamite still taped to her back.

"Tick. Tick. Is this going to be the second that I'm going to blow up? Is this going to be the step that's going to end my daughter's life?"
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