WARNER ROBINS — The district manager for the Huddle House on Russell Parkway received a call from a hostage-taker early Wednesday morning.
“You all better hurry up or you’ll miss the show,” recalled James Windham of the message left by former employee Christina Robbins, 42, of Bonaire.
Windham, 48, said his phone was recharging. But later the same morning, he found himself standing in the parking lot behind the Blockbuster next to the restaurant with police and attempting to talk Robbins, who had allegedly taken a hostage, into surrendering.
His attempts to talk her out were unsuccessful.
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A police tactical team used a flash bang device that emits a loud noise and a blinding light to distract Robbins and take her into custody after entering the restaurant through the back door at 8:38 a.m. No one was injured.
Robbins, who was hospitalized Thursday in Columbus for a mental evaluation, is accused of holding hostage Huddle House employee Lisa Young, 44, of Bonaire, by tying her to a chair with a rope, said Tabitha Pugh, Warner Robins police spokeswoman.
“I’m just glad nobody got hurt and that no customers were in the building,” Windham said. “I don’t think she really would hurt anybody. I think she was starving badly for attention.”
Robbins has worked for Windham three times in the past few years. Windham, who said he tries to help people, often loaning his employees money, hired Robbins as a favor to her brother, Windham’s friend.
Robbins talked about trolls and the Internet and how she was hired by the British to cause people harm by saying bad things about them on the Internet, Windham said. He attempted to talk to her about this, but she’d only tell him, “I’m not crazy. You all don’t get it.”
Wednesday morning, Young was alone in the Huddle House opening up the restaurant at 5:40 a.m., Windham said. He said he prefers for the person opening the restaurant to wait for the cook to arrive but often an employee will go on in alone and start the coffee brewing.
Robbins would have known this because she once worked there, and she picked the most petite employee to take hostage, Windham noted. Police said Robbins had a toy gun that looked real and two large knives. Windham said he suspects the knives belonged to the restaurant because two cook’s knives are missing.
According to the surveillance video, Robbins came in through the back door, which Young left unlocked, Windham said.
Windham said his understanding was that Robbins told Young, “I’m not here to hurt you, but I’m tying you up to take you hostage.”
Robbins had Young sit in a chair in the back room of the restaurant and then tied her to the chair with a rope — but not too tightly so that Young could still smoke a cigarette, Windham said.
A regular customer, who typically comes in at 6 a.m., noticed that the blinds were drawn, thought it strange and called 911, Windham said.
At one point, Windham recalled being fearful that Robbins was about to be shot by a police sniper because, Windham said, she kept waving the toy gun around at police and police did not know at that time if it was a real gun, he said.
Then it was over.
Windham said he spoke briefly with Young, who told him that Robbins had said some odd things but had not hurt her. Young was taken to Houston Medical Center after the incident as a precaution to be checked out and was released, Pugh said.
Robbins had previously talked about suicide, telling Windham she wanted to die but was too scared to do it and had talked about killing herself in “epic proportions,” Windham said.
But Windham said he still doesn’t believe she wanted to hurt herself or anyone else, but that she wanted the attention and used the restaurant as a forum, he said.
Windham said he’s still concerned for Robbins.
“If anything good comes out of this, regardless of what she’s facing, I hope she gets help and gets better,” Windham said.
Robbins is facing charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and false imprisonment upon her release from the hospital, police said.
Robbins suffers from a mental health issue. Her family has tried to get her help for but she has refused, said her 72-year-old mother, who lives in Warner Robins and spoke with The Telegraph on the condition that her name not be used.
“I don’t know of anything more we could have done,” Robbins’ mother said. “We still invited her to family outings and she just pushed us away.”
Robbins’ mother said she learned that Robbins had been living in the woods behind Kroger on Russell Parkway, and found some of her daughter’s belongings in the wooded area.
“I’m heartbroken,” the mother said. “I was scared she had hurt somebody. But she didn’t.”