Comfort Mensah was standing at the bar at Ashkenaz Dance and Music Community Center early Saturday morning when two gunmen burst in and demanded cash. She and her boss, Larry Chin, the dance hall’s managing director, had just discovered some counterfeit bills among the $5,000 to $7,000 taken in that night.
“We were looking for fake money when I heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and I realized it was a gun,” said Mensah, who has worked at Ashkenaz for the last 16 years. “When I looked everyone was lying on the floor because that was the only way to be safe.”
One of those lying on the floor was Chin, who had been shot in the head and lay bleeding. Mensah threw herself down and grazed against the gunman’s foot, she said. He didn’t notice because he was so intent on taking the money from the cash drawer, she said.
“He was shouting ‘Where is the manager? Where is the money?’” said Mensah.
On Sunday evening, Mensah was back at Ashkenaz having just paid Chin a visit. A bullet is lodged behind his ear and he needs an operation, but he will survive, she said. The other injured employee is also in stable condition, according to Ashkenaz management. He was shot in the arm, said Mensah.
Even though the shooting was brazen and shocking, no one at Ashkenaz thought of shutting down in the middle of their 40th anniversary celebration. The club was open for business Saturday and Sunday.
“We celebrate for peace,” said Mensah. “We cannot let this stop us. Larry asked us to reopen. I was scared but he does not want us to give up.”
After discovering the counterfeit money, Chin went to call the police and told Mensah to put it in a separate bag. Chin’s call may explain why Berkeley police responded to the gunshots so quickly and were able to quickly arrest one man who had hidden nearby. The other gunman is still at large.
The incident was terrifying, according to one Berkeleyside commentator who identified herself as “Berkeley Woman.”
“I was there,” she wrote. “Scary stuff — they came in while the performers where playing music on stage and we were all dancing, the gunmen made everyone (performers too) lay down on the floor (about 400 people total). Everyone froze, afraid to look up. The place became totally silent and motionless (with all those people, piled up on top of one other — it was crowded, and we lay down wherever we were standing/dancing). They shot five or six times, then ran and people started to get up/call the police. And NO, the police did not arrive right away at all. Took them at least 10 minutes. They must have stolen a lot — the tickets were $18, and they also robbed the bar.”
Mensah does not think the gunmen were targeting anyone because, if they had been, she would have been shot as well. She was standing right next to Chin.
Berkeley police are urging anyone with information about the incident to call them at 510-981 5742 or 510-981 5900. If someone wants to remain anonymous, they can call tips in to Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the employees who was injured in the shootings. We apologize for the error.
Two Ashkenaz employees shot during robbery [03.16.13]
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