By Beth Burger
Federal authorities released a composite sketch Wednesday of a man who took more than $9,000 in stamps from a post office and fondled one of two clerks before fleeing.
Authorities are searching for a black man with a medium complexion who is in his 20s. He is about 5 feet 7 and weighs between 160 and 170 pounds, according to witness accounts given to authorities.
He wore his hair in cornrows, had pockmarked cheeks and wore dark clothing and a toboggan.
The U.S. Postal Service is offering a reward up to $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.
Yulanda N. Burns, public information officer for the Atlanta division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said Wednesday that the man brandished a handgun on Jan. 15 when he forced his way into the back of the East Lake Station Post Office at 2600 E. 34th St.
The robbery happened about 8:30 a.m., when the branch was still closed.
Once inside, the robber took postal property including the stamps, Burns said.
He also took $500 in cash, according to Chattanooga Police Department, which is aiding in the investigation.
Both women were forced to remove their shirts and one was fondled, according to police.
No one was injured.
"As you can imagine, [the victims] are shaken up," Burns said. "This is a crime we take very seriously."
Burns would not disclose details about other items taken or if evidence was recovered.
With the sketch released to the public, Burns said the robber will be caught.
"People look out for each other here. They don't want someone like that walking the streets," she said. "Someone is going to turn him in."
There are about 34,000 post offices nationwide, Burns said, and robberies are very rare. Post offices do not keep a large amount of cash, she said.
"You just never know what people are thinking," she said. "I don't blame it on the economy because there are plenty of people who don't have jobs, and they aren't going around robbing postal facilities."
Brian Weddington, 46, of Chattanooga, who goes to the East Lake post office about one to two times per month, said he was surprised by the robbery. He does blame the economy.
"It's the wrong thing to do, but people are having a hard time," he said.
A postal worker taped the composite sketch of the suspect on the glass doors of the post office Wednesday afternoon. Some customers coming to check for mail and send letters stopped to glance at the image before entering the building.
If the man is apprehended and convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison, Burns said.
Anyone with any information is asked to call Post Master General's Office at 877-876-2455. Select Option 2.
The Chattanooga Police Department can be reached at 423-698-3333.