Victim helps police track down prolific armed robbery suspect

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Police say they have caught a serial robber who hit more than a dozen gas stations and convenience stores over a two-month period, thanks to a store owner who had just been held up.

The owner of this convenience store in Federal Way doesn’t want us to identify him. But he says he was working on Christmas Eve around noon, when a man walked into his store and pulled a gun.

He got money out of the register. But he says when he didn’t hand it over immediately, the robber hit him on the head with the gun.

Federal Way police now believe that suspect is responsible for at least 20 robberies throughout King and Pierce counties in November and December. They say the robberies were getting increasingly dangerous.

“We were worried that as he continued this spree, his violence could escalate,” says Cathy Schrock, with the Federal Way Police Department.

The owner says he didn’t think about the possibility of more violence after the robber ran away. He just grabbed his phone and followed him outside. He called police, as he watched the robber suspect go to a nearby apartment complex and get into a car.

“We were able to search the area right away,” says Schrock. “We found that the suspect had thrown his coat down, as well as gloves and things like that. Inside the coat was the suspect’s identification.”

The suspect was arrested at his home and police said he confessed to several of the crimes. Police say none of that would have been possible if the owner hadn’t acted.

“Most clerks are trained to not engage with the suspect, to not chase the suspect.”

The owner says he doesn’t think he did anything heroic. But the city of Federal Way is already planning to recognize him with a special award.

“He made a huge impact for this community,” says Schrock. “We had 15 victims just in the city of Federal Way. He’s a hero, there’s no question in our mind.”

The suspect has been identified as 21-year-old Valoaga Falaniko. Police say he’s facing at least eight robbery charges in Federal Way and Des Moines, and several others in Auburn, King County, Tacoma and Pierce County.