(WMC-TV) – The recent convictions of four men are examples of what happens when victims come forward. But it's challenging in the in the tight-knit and too often tight-lipped Hispanic community.
"They need to speak up because there are people out there willing to hear us," said Patricia Aguilar.
Aguilar and Angelica Dejeda were among the quartet's victims when they targeted a number of Hispanic businesses nearly three years ago.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Ed Stanton announced that David Cuadrado, Tobey Becton, Orel Chapa, and Mark Ellis were convicted and sentenced for the crimes.
On December 10, 2009, two men robbed the El Ranchito grocery store on Macon Road. The men forced the employee and customers on the ground at gunpoint. Then they took money from the cash register.
On December 16, 2009, four men robbed the La Herradura Western Wear Store on Summer Avenue. Again, the men forced everyone on the ground at gunpoint, then stole cash and merchandise before escaping in a truck belonging to the owner of the store.
U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton hosted a roundtable discussing to address the various law enforcement initiatives available to combat those who prey on members of the Hispanic community.
"Four people came in with guns pointed at us and demanded money, merchandise, whatever they could get their hands on," said Aguilar.
She and Dejeda thought they might be killed.
"One of them put a gun to my head," said Dejeda.
The US Attorneys Office, which helped send the convicted robbers to prison for nine to 18 years, believes ethnicity and/or national origin are precisely the reasons robbers target Hispanics.
"Often times there is a language barrier, criminals know that," said US Attorney Ed Stanton, III. "There is a fear of retaliation, criminals know that," he added. "And there's often a false sense of community that nothing will be done," said Stanton.
Stanton announced Monday a renewed commitment to strengthening relations with the Mid-south's more than 700,000 Hispanic residents.
"Criminals don't discriminate and neither do we," said Stanton.
It's a message Aguilar and Dejeda hope more people in their community receive.
"We need to let know our community that it's okay to speak up," said Dejeda.