The prolific robberies in Blackfalds and Red Deer were enough to alarm any community.
What may have been just as alarming is who was charged with the crimes.
A total of 16 armed robberies occurred from last October to February.
On Nov. 17, three robberies at Blackfalds businesses happened within minutes. The suspects ran from a pizza business to a liquor store and then to another liquor store, getting cash in each of the robberies before disappearing.
Overall, there were 10 armed robberies in Blackfalds and six in Red Deer.
Sometimes the suspects wore masks, dark clothes from head to toe, and either had real or imitation guns, or intimated that they were armed.
What binds these robberies together is that they are all alleged to have been committed by teenagers, one as young as 14.
Eight youths now face serious charges of armed robbery, and police believe the suspects, who are from Blackfalds, likely knew each other, although they were not working together as a group.
They are charged under the Young Offenders Act and therefore cannot be identified. The charges against all of them have yet to be proven.
The regional Priority Crimes Task Forces, made up of officers from surrounding rural detachments, played a significant role in the arrests.
Blackfalds RCMP Staff Sgt. Ken Morrison said on Monday that it is unusual to have eight youths charged from one community.
Blackfalds is no different than any other small community, except that the town only has elementary schools, he said. Teens go elsewhere for high school, “so they don’t necessarily have a vested interest in the community.”
“I think this is kind of a one-off. Individuals likely all knew each other.” But the cases may not be connected, Morrison said.
The first arrest came the week of March 9. A youth is now facing 25 charges for eight robberies — five in Blackfalds and three in Red Deer — between October and February.
Then, building on that arrest, police arrested four other Blackfalds youths, ages 16 and 17, on March 12 for seven armed robberies. One robbery was in Blackfalds on Feb. 13 and three more occurred there in rapid succession on Nov. 17; and three were in Red Deer on Feb. 21, 24 and 27.
Finally, police arrested and charged two youths on March 17 and one on March 18 for the Feb. 22 armed robbery at a Blackfalds pizza place. Two of the suspects are age 16 and one is 14.
During the robberies, Morrison said there was fear in the community.
Later, people were surprised that the suspects — who were known to police — were all from Blackfalds, he said.
Armed robberies are extremely traumatic for the victims, he said.
“It’s not something you would ever forget, I wouldn’t think. And (victims) are not trained or accustomed to dealing with violent people.”
All the victims complied and no one was physically hurt. “That’s just by the grace of God in my opinion, when you look at the fact it’s an armed robbery,” Morrison said.
The victims received help from victim services.
Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol said when it comes to crime, one small group can do a lot of damage in a small period.
There are plenty of youths in Blackfalds, Stol said. The town’s population has grown rapidly, presently at 7,858.
“There’s literally 1,000 youths in Blackfalds” and here’s a very small group allegedly committing a lot of very serious crime.
She doesn’t believe the arrests reflect on the community negatively. “I don’t look at it as what’s wrong with Blackfalds.”
Go to the Abbey Centre on a Thursday night when there’s no school the next day and there are up to 50 teenagers having a great time, Stol said.
“There’s a lot of kids out there doing a lot of great things in Blackfalds.”
“We have great organizations like the Youth Optimist Club, kids who are volunteering at our library, who are involved in sports,” she said.
“That speaks more to our community.”