Purse stolen from elderly NYC woman in wheelchair

NEW YORK — An elderly woman who uses a wheelchair told police that what seemed to be a casual conversation turned into a robbery on Sunday, reports CBS New York.

The 85-year-old woman said she was sitting in her wheelchair in the Bronx at around 2:15 p.m., when another woman walked up and the two began chatting.

“She said ‘Hello’ and then we said, ‘It’s a beautiful day,’” said Bernice Starnes. “She said, ‘It sure is’ and that’s when she grabbed my bag and ran down the street.”

A still from surveillance video that New York City police say shows a woman reaching down to steal a purse from 85-year-old Bernice Starnes, as Starnes sat in a wheelchair on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. CBS New York

Police said the suspect was seen on surveillance video snatching the bag and taking off. The purse contained cash and a bank card, police said. 

“She grab my pocketbook and I said, ‘Bring my pocketbook back here’ so I tried to get out of my wheelchair to try to run after her,” Starnes said.

Starnes is described by her neighbors as a nice person who many have nicknamed “grandma” or “Miss Lady.” One neighbor told CBS New York she sees Starnes outside the building every morning.

“She says ‘Hi’ to people, she doesn’t bother anybody. She keeps to herself so when I heard it this morning on the news, it really hurt me a lot,” said Melissa Mayo.

Neighors said many in the building pitch in to help Starnes.

“People in the building help her when she wants to get downstairs or if she needs a store run,” neighbor Tarsha Stallworth told CBS New York.

Monday morning, officers from the 48th precinct, Starnes’s local patrol, donated $130 to help offset the money taken from her.

The gesture brought Starnes to tears.

“That’s why they’re New York’s best,” she said.

The incident an unrelated robbery last week when police said surveillance video captured a man allegedly stealing $600 from an elderly woman’s bra as she sat in a wheelchair in Manhattan.

Despite the similarities between the two incidents, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday that there is not a spike in crimes against the elderly.

“The public gets outraged about that, and appropriately so,” he said. “But on the positive side, it really does bring the public forward, helping us to find these people.”