Bystanders assist police in nabbing purse snatcher from Thriftee

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Francisco Rojo was booked into jail on charges of burglary, theft, theft of a credit card, and possession of drug paraphernalia after allegedly swiping an elderly woman’s purse from the parking lot of Thriftee Food & Drug.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Through the collaboration of multiple witnesses, officers from two police agencies, and video surveillance from multiple businesses, a man suspected of stealing an elderly woman’s purse was apprehended and the stolen items returned to the victim.

Francisco Rojo, 30, was arrested Thursday, Oct. 15, and booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on charges of burglary, theft, theft of a credit card, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to a Safford Police report, the 76-year-old victim had put her purse in her car after shopping at Thriftee Food & Drug and was unloading her groceries when a man on a blue, Schwinn bicycle rode up next to the car, reached inside, and swiped the woman’s purse.

Witnesses saw the theft and informed the woman. Officers were then dispatched to the area at about 10:52 a.m.  

Witnesses also attempted to follow the suspect, later identified as Rojo, but lost him on 3rd Avenue between 9th Street and 11th Street. The witness stated he and his wife saw the suspect turn onto 3rd Avenue from 9th Street and decided to stay on 9th Street to try and cut him off but that he never made it to 11th Street. Officers later learned that Rojo had ditched his bike near a single-wide trailer located near storage units in the 900 block of 3rd Avenue  

Another officer received a tip from a separate resident that a man was seen running near the cotton gin southbound through a canal. The witness said the man seemed out of breath and kept looking behind him.  

A Thatcher officer responded to the area and chased down Rojo on foot. When apprehended, Rojo denied taking the woman’s purse and said all he had on him was his phone. Officers repeatedly asked where he left the purse so they could return it to the woman, but Rojo just continued to say all he had on him was his phone.

However, Rojo was positively identified as the suspect by multiple witnesses, even though he was wearing a white mask at the time of the crime, and multiple surveillance cameras showed him riding the blue Schwinn bicycle in the area of 8th Street and 8th Avenue just prior to the theft.

Back at the trailer, a Safford detective located a white mask laying on a glass table and a backpack that was identical to the one the purse snatcher was reportedly wearing. While collecting the evidence, the detective spoke with a nearby resident who advised his brother lives in the trailer and that he had seen Rojo riding the mountain bike the day before.

Along the east side of the property, the detective located numerous items that appeared to have been dumped, including pens, change, gum, and prescription medication. The detective then came upon the victim’s driver’s license, credit cards, and other items, including her purse and cash. The stolen items were eventually returned to the victim after being properly documented.  

While following the suspect’s trail, the detective also located a glass pipe with apparent methamphetamine residue.

During interrogation, Rojo allegedly admitted going through drug withdrawal (being “dope sick”) but again denied being involved in the burglary. He was then booked into jail.