When Tess Aboughoushe heard the scream, her instinct kicked in.
She chased the purse-snatcher down an alley and found him hiding behind a dumpster.
An hour later, she would be sharing a coffee with him in a nearby café.
“I offered the guy a coffee because you could tell he was very distraught and upset,” Aboughoushe said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.
“He wasn’t leaving or running away but just looking very lost.”
‘Just like in the movies’
Aboughoushe was returning from a lunch-hour appointment at the chiropractor Wednesday when she spotted a struggle down the block.
“I was walking back to my office and crossing the street and a lady calls out, ‘Stop. Thief. He took my wallet.’
‘I didn’t stop to think or anything. I just kind of took off after the guy.’
– Tess Aboughoushe
“Just like in the movies, she screams and I see this man start to run. I didn’t stop to think or anything. I just kind of took off after the guy.”
Aboughoushe sprinted after the man for two blocks before she turned a corner and found him cowering in an alley near a parkade.
His face was lined and scratched beneath a clean-shaven head.
Though she is a long-distance runner, Aboughoushe’s five-feet-three-inch frame was trembling. Her heart thumped in her chest.
The man had one hand shoved deep in his pocket. Aboughoushe feared he might have a knife.
But instead, he hunched over inside his oversized blue parka and began to sob.
“He came out from behind the dumpster and says, in a conciliatory way, ‘Here is the wallet, I can’t do this anymore, I’m sorry, just take it, take it.’
“So I took the wallet, and the woman caught up soon after. I gave it back to her and he stayed there, apologizing a lot.”
Aboughoushe gave the woman a hug and wished her a Happy Valentine’s Day.
Then, she walked with the man to Credo, a few blocks down the street, and bought him a large black coffee.
The man told Aboughoushe he was desperate. He had been visiting the city with his friends from Calgary when they left him stranded without money.
He told Aboughoushe he didn’t have anywhere to go and needed to get back home.
“He said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this before. I just really need the money. I don’t know where to go. I’m lost.’ ”
Aboughoushe wished the man luck and gave him directions to the public library, so he could seek out the social workers on staff.
She acknowledged she may have put herself at risk, but has no regrets. It was a humbling experience, she said.
“Thank goodness for the Edmonton police and firefighters who demonstrate a willingness to actively put themselves in risky situations every single day,” she said. “That, I’m truly in awe of.”
Aboughoushe did make a report to Edmonton police later that afternoon but said she has no desire to see the man punished. She said she hopes he gets help he needs.
“You kill more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” she said. “I wanted to show him some compassion.”