Rania Ahmed woke with a start shortly before 5:30 a.m. Sunday to a hand over her mouth, a pistol pointed at her head and two strange men in her bedroom demanding she hand over money.
The men held her and her 15-year-old son, who’d fallen asleep in her bed, at gunpoint, screaming for them to hand over any cash in the house, Ahmed said Tuesday.
The startling awakening was just the beginning of a brutal home invasion that terrorized Rania Ahmed and her four children in their home in the Riverbend subdivision, an upscale neighborhood south of LSU.
Baton Rouge police officers arrested one of the armed robbers, identified as 20-year-old Lawrence Isaac, as he sprinted away from the house early Sunday morning.
Though police haven’t yet identified the second man, Ahmed said she believes she recognized him as the same man who had threatened her at gunpoint weeks earlier as she closed up the business she owns in Tigerland.
Although his face was covered, Ahmed said, he wore the same clothes, sounded the same and even wielded what looked like the same weapon.
“I woke up with that same guy standing over me with a gun,” Ahmed said. “It looks like they meant to come get me.”
Ahmed, who’s run the Akasha Market on Bob Pettit Boulevard for two decades, said an armed man snuck up behind her Jan. 4 as she changed a trash can liner while closing up shortly after 12:30 a.m.
He grabbed cash and change out of the register and threatened to kill her if she didn’t open the shop’s safe, Ahmed said.
As Ahmed, terrified, struggled with the safe’s combination, the robber stuffed thousands of dollars — the market’s take from the busy New Year’s weekend — in a shopping bag before sprinting away.
The harrowing experience — and a second robbery on Jan. 20 when a different man reached across the counter and grabbed a fistful of bills from the register — led Ahmed to lease out the business to someone else after two decades running the market.
No arrest has yet been made in either of the robberies of Akasha Market.
In the home invasion, Isaac, 246 Rafe Mayer Road, was booked on counts of armed robbery and resisting arrest and remains in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail.
Detectives haven’t linked the Jan. 4 robbery with Sunday’s home invasion, said Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola.
But Ahmed said the men appeared to have been watching her home, striking the day after an electric gate that normally blocks her driveway broke down.
They also knew details about her life, Ahmed said: what sort of car she drives, that she’s divorced, that she owns the business.
Renee Akasha, Ahmed’s 18-year-old daughter, said the two robbers appeared convinced the family had large amounts of cash stashed in the house.
After startling her mother and younger brother, Akasha said, the men burst into her room and tried to drag her out of bed.
“He was wearing black on black, had a gun pointed at me and screamed, ‘If you want to see your mother live, you’d better get up,’ ” Akasha said.
The men dragged her into her mother’s room, eventually punching her three times in the face, she said. The blows broke her braces, sent blood pouring from her mouth and cracked her jaw.
The men also woke her 12-year-old brother, who was sleeping on a couch, and stole his PlayStation 4, Akasha said.
“They punched him in the chest and dragged him from the room, holding a gun to his head,” she said.
In the bedroom, the robbers tried to tie the children together with duct tape while demanding Ahmed open a safe they’d discovered in her bedroom closet.
Then they heard a noise coming from another bedroom, where a second daughter had locked herself inside and dialed 911.
The robbers kicked down the door and hit her on the head with the pistol, Ahmed and Akasha said, but soon realized she’d called for help and sprinted from the house with Ahmed’s purse and the gaming system.
Ahmed, who settled in Baton Rouge 20 years ago after emigrating to the U.S. from the Gaza Strip, said she’s been deeply unsettled by the attacks.
“I’ve been here for 20 years and in this house for 16 years,” Ahmed said. “I’ve been working at Akasha for 20 years and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Never. And I’ve always felt safe and secure in Riverbend.”
Ahmed said she didn’t know why the robbers might have struck again at her home, though she guessed that the money taken from the market on Jan. 4 — about $5,000 — might have led them to believe there was more cash at the house.
But there wasn’t, which Ahmed said was perhaps the only bit of solace from the experience: “They didn’t get what they wanted and the robber didn’t expect to be caught and locked in jail.”
On Tuesday, Ahmed said she hasn’t yet told her mother back in Gaza about the robberies out of concern for her health. Ahmed said she left the Gaza Strip in part to find security in the U.S.
“Look what happened to us,” she said. “We’re terrified again.”