“We cried on each other’s shoulders,” Jason Schwab said. “She started making promises about when I got out of the hospital we were going to get clean and make a better life.”
She drove off in his pickup truck, he said, and he hasn’t seen his cousin since. Three days later, police said, she launched a 13-day crime spree that sparked a manhunt for the 26-year-old mother of three, who came to be known as the “Blonde Bandit.”
Schwab, a former gang member turned government witness, carjacked one woman at knife point at a Fairfax County mall and another outside a Baltimore County grocery store, authorities said. She’s accused of robbing two banks, trying to rob a third and stealing a van. And police said she’s a suspect in the theft of Jason Schwab’s pickup.
When she was arrested last week after she crashed her car, she was relieved she’d gotten caught, her attorney said Monday after a brief court hearing.
“When your life is falling apart around you, it’s nice to know the situation is over,” said the lawyer, Alfred Robertson Jr.
Schwab’s family and friends, who for days watched bank surveillance images of the young woman flash on the television news, are trying to come to terms with what may have led to the spiral. Schwab, who joined the violent MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, street gang as a young girl, had years ago broken from the gang to testify in a murder case. She told people that she entered a federal witness protection program and moved to New York City. Relatives said that at one point she had a job and an apartment and was doing well.
But in recent months, family said, her drug problem again overtook her, and she was back on the streets of Manassas, staying with relatives or at motels. As the police announced she was a suspect in one crime after another, they feared someone would get hurt.
“I guess she figured once she got past the first bank robbery, it was all or nothing. That’s why she kept on running,” Jason Schwab said. “I’m her cousin, and I love her, but I was expecting her to go out in a blaze of gunfire.”
Schwab, with her round face, long blond hair and shy yet engaging demeanor, grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Manassas, where the largely Latino MS-13 gang has a presence. She ran away from home at 12, became an associate of the gang at 13 and had her first child by 15 with an MS-13 member, Schwab testified at the 2005 murder trial.
“I looked to them because I cared about them, because they were the only people I had,” Schwab testified. “They were always there for me.”
Arlington County police Sgt. Rick Rodriguez, who worked on the murder case, said that although it was unusual at the time for a white girl to be associated with MS-13, members saw a benefit in girls who might have money or would beg to support the gang. “She was being more or less used for cash,” Rodriguez said.