A clerk at 7-Eleven, Nereida "Nelly" Juarez of Berwyn couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the man with the teardrop tattoo who had held a gun to her head the previous day. He was stumbling down Roosevelt Road in the middle of the afternoon.
"I recognized the way he was walking, sort of sideways, like he was dozing off into mid-air," Juarez said.
Just an hour earlier, around 1:45 p.m. Saturday, March 9, Jeremy Seeman, age 35, had followed a Cicero woman into the ATM vestibule at Charter One bank, 6020 W. Roosevelt Rd. According to Oak Park police reports, Seeman pointed a gun at the woman and said, "Give it to me." He then added, "Don't worry, it's insured." The victim told police he snatched two $20 bills from her hand. As Seeman was leaving the vestibule, the victim grabbed the bills back and they ripped. Seeman fled with a scrap of each bill in his hand, and ran across Roosevelt Road through the Lucky Dog parking lot in Berwyn.
An hour later, as Juarez was picked up from her 7-Eleven shift by her husband, she spotted Seeman. The couple exited their car.
"I acted like I was going into the laundromat and called Berwyn police," she said. "My husband stood near him, pretending to be picking things up off the ground."
Berwyn and Oak Park police arrived and took Seeman into custody. He still had the ripped corners of the $20 bills in his pocket. He asked police if he could keep them for a souvenir.
Berwyn police had been staking Seeman's father's house in the 1300 block of South Harvey Avenue and had issued a bulletin to neighboring police departments, said Berwyn Police Commander Sandro Scardamaglia.
"She just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Scardamaglia said of Juarez. "We knew who we were looking for. We had officers undercover."
Juarez agreed to speak to Wednesday Journal because she said she wanted people to know how damaging Seeman's crimes were to her as, "an ordinary person, a mom with two kids."
Scardamaglia said of Juarez, "We would certainly never advise anyone to do what she did, trying to take the law into your own hands."
"Luckily [Seeman] was caught before anybody got seriously hurt," Scardamaglia added.
But even though no one was physically hurt in Seeman's arrest, he caused plenty of mental pain to his victims.
Seeman, a heroin addict, was convicted Aug. 8 of 12 robberies and armed robberies in Berwyn, Oak Park, Cicero and Chicago in late 2012 and 2013. He was sentenced to 10 21-year terms, one 15-year term and one seven-year term, to be served concurrently. He is now at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, Ill.
Berwyn police still believe he committed a beauty parlor "lick" — the slang he used to describe his armed robberies — Jan. 24 at a salon on Cermak Road, but they were unable to gain a conviction for that incident.
After interviewing Seeman, police recovered a black metal Colt pellet gun in a backpack beneath the porch of his father's house. Both Juarez and the vestibule victim identified the gun.
Juarez was called "Red" at her 7-Eleven job because of her red-tinted hair. That's what the many police officers from Cicero, Oak Park and Berwyn who stopped in while on the job called her. She had worked in the building at Roosevelt and East Avenue before when it was a Blockbuster Video store, and had many of the same customers, she said.
After she assisted in Seeman's arrest, the word spread amongst officers who congratulated her as they stopped in for coffee.
"Some of the officers said, 'Red, you really should get the reward,'" said Juarez.
But there was no reward.
"Our officers don't have authorization to tell her that she's going to get compensated in any way," said Scardimaglia. "[Juarez] was unable to identify the officer who told her there was a reward."
In fact, Juarez's life was about to be turned upside down.
After the initial exuberance of the arrest, Juarez was taken to the Berwyn police station to identify Seeman in a lineup.
"I was so happy that day," she said.
She saw other women there, she estimated around 20, other victims of [Seeman's] armed robberies, but she was not allowed to speak to them. After picking Seeman out of a lineup and answering some questions, she said she was ignored for an hour and a half.
"I waited for someone to drive me home. Finally I recognized a woman who worked in the parking ticket office. Her daughter used to work with me. She drove me home."
Addiction drove risky crimes
A father of three, Jeremy Seeman worked part time as a mover, but told police he was addicted to heroin and Xanax pills for two years. He told police he had a relative who was allowing him to use his credit cards to buy merchandise he would sell for drug money until late 2012. Then Seeman began to commit crimes, sometimes with an accomplice in Chicago and sometimes alone. The majority of the Berwyn armed robberies for which he was convicted were within walking distance of his house.
His victims were almost all women, usually clerks in gas stations, grocery or convenience stores. Seeman was convicted of robbing the Circle K Shell station at 6405 W. Roosevelt Rd. twice, once on Dec. 24 and again on Feb. 3. Both times he entered with a ski mask obscuring his face, handed the female clerk a note demanding money and saying he had a gun. He also demanded a carton of Newport cigarettes. One clerk told police as he was leaving he said, "Merry Christmas" to her and she told police she thought she recognized his voice and that he might be a regular customer.
He was convicted of robbing the Berwyn Food shop, 1400 S. Kenilworth on Jan. 20 and police think he robbed the Golden Shears, 6228 W. Cermak on Jan. 24. In that robbery, the offender, also wearing a ski mask, displayed a foot-long knife and took money from the cash register and a hair dresser's purse.
The crimes Seeman committed in Chicago were more violent. With an accomplice Seeman robbed the Safe and Sound auto stereo store at 5145 W. Diversey Ave. last Jan. 30 taking cell phones and the nightly cash deposit, as well as money from the register. The accomplice demanded the clerk lie on the ground and held a semi-automatic pistol to his back and head.
After he was arrested, Seeman told police he thought he'd either end up dead or in jail. He said he used seven or more "jabs" of heroin per day.
When Seeman entered Juarez's 7-Eleven alone around 2:30 p.m. March 8, he asked for a piece of pizza.
"He told me he was really hungry, and he paid with a handful of change," Juarez said. "He asked me if I would heat the pizza up for him, so I showed him how to work the microwave. He asked for salt and pepper."
Juarez, who has a family member with drug problems, said she could tell Seeman was under the influence of drugs.
"He was scratching his face and touching himself on his lips a lot. That's what drug addicts do, they get really itchy."
Her co-worker slipped into the back office and Seeman suddenly pulled out the Colt and held it close to her face. She saw the tear-shaped tattoo below his left eye and another on his wrist and arm.
Juarez said he told her, "I'm sorry to do this to you. You need to open up the register and give me all the money. Do not scream for your coworker." Juarez gave him the money, even the rolls of coins. He fled out the double doors, dropping coins in the snow as he ran through the parking lot. The loss was $142.32.
Looking back, Juarez said she was excited at first that she had caught the man who robbed her. She was especially excited about the reward that officers mentioned offhand as they came into the shop.
But when she visited the police departments of Berwyn, Cicero and Oak Park, she was told there was no reward offered.
Cook County Crimestoppers Volunteer Chairman George McDade said his organization gave cash rewards to people for turning in criminals, but Juarez would have had to have followed a special procedure to collect.
He said she would have had to have called Crimestoppers first, gotten a code number and then called 911.
"All Crimestoppers programs have the same criteria, they are tracked through a code number," McDade said. "I don't think you're going to find a cash reward for that, but [Juarez] and her husband should be recognized for bravery."
Meanwhile, Juarez, who suffered from anxiety in the past, had trouble sleeping and felt like problems were piling up on her.
Juarez said the 7-Eleven management did not thank her, nor did they address the problems that she thought made the store dangerous, like double doors that swung outwards and a panic button in plain sight that she was afraid to push with a gun to her head.
Instead, she said, co-workers started treating her suspiciously.
"People at work were saying I must know [Seeman], because I caught him," she said.
She checked herself into Loyola University Medical Center for a couple of days under the care of her therapist and a psychiatrist. Then she was told she could not take any more days off her job.
"I could not go back to work."
After three and a half years working in the building — first Blockbuster, then the convenience store — Juarez was fired from 7-Eleven and has not found another job.
Her husband, an army reservist and chemical weapons expert was called up to be sent to the Middle East and had to leave their home for training in Wisconsin. Then the building in which the family rented an apartment in Chicago was foreclosed and all the tenants were evicted last month. Juarez and her two children -- 4th grade and preschool -- are living with her mother-in-law in Cicero now. She's worried her daughter will get kicked out of the Chicago charter school she attends.
Juarez was even more shocked when she found out the identity of Seeman's accomplice, Daniel Vega, 35, of Cicero – a heroin user who was formerly married to a relative. Vega is charged with 10 counts of robbery and is in Cook County jail without bond awaiting a court date Nov. 6.
"If anyone in my family knew Daniel was involved with this, I feel like I was set up," she said.
Heroin market's cost
River Forest police officer Marty Grill is a member of the West Suburban Drug and Gang Task Force (WEDGE).
"People don't realize the power heroin has on society in our area," Grill said. "There's a huge nexus between heroin abuse and addiction and property crime in River Forest and Oak Park."
"If you tolerate drug sales, all you're doing is proliferating the local crime issue."
In Seeman's case, the police work is finished, Seeman is convicted, sentenced and in prison now.
But Grill acknowledges victims of violent crimes often feel helpless long after the legal system considers the case closed.
"When they don't understand the [trial] process, victims can feel like they don't have a sense of control over their lives," Grill said. Grill said there are victim and witness specialists with the States Attorney's office who can work with victims to help them understand the court timeline and process, but they are a small department.
For Juarez, having lost her job and home, and being separated from her husband's support, life has become more difficult.
"I never got a thank you from Berwyn, nothing from Oak Park, Cicero. I put this guy away and never even got a thank you from 7-Eleven," Juarez said.
"Jeremy's in jail, he's OK," she added. "I'm jealous of him. He knows that he's going to eat today and where he's going to sleep tonight."
"I know I'm not the only one who's mentally suffering. He put a gun to me over $142.32," she said. "He took my peace."
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