‘Freedom Fighter Bandit’ says she robs banks for a cause

Investigators believe this woman is responsible robbing eight banks and attempting to rob a ninth in the metro area since Oct. 30. She’s been nicknamed the “Freedom Fighter Bandit” because she tells the tellers she needs the money for a social cause.
Investigators believe this woman is responsible robbing eight banks and attempting to rob a ninth in the metro area since Oct. 30. She’s been nicknamed the “Freedom Fighter Bandit” because she tells the tellers she needs the money for a social cause.

She’s doing it a for a reason, she says.

The woman tells bank tellers she needs money for various social causes, and if she doesn’t get it, she’ll blow up the building, according to investigators. Dubbed the “Freedom Fighter Bandit,” the FBI and local police want to catch her.

She has now targeted nine metro Atlanta banks since October, and she’s gotten more brazen with each robbery.

“One thing we’re convinced of is she is not going to stop,” Kevin Rowson, FBI spokesman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She looks pretty average, but she is very bold.”

She isn’t your typical bank robber, according to one longtime investigator. Bank robbers aren’t normally women, unless they’re an accomplice or getaway driver, retired FBI agent Chris Quick said Wednesday. And she’s been successful for a robber of any gender — only one failed robbery out of her nine attempts. Quick, who now runs his own investigations company in Charleston, said bank robbers typically are caught before this many heists.

“Getting away with eight bank robberies is unusual,” Quick said. “Usually after two or three, they mess up and get caught.”

Investigators believe they may know her name. Two of her young accomplices were arrested in Douglas County, the FBI said, and they identified her as Nilsa Marie Urena, 25. A Facebook page that appears to belong to Urena was still active this week.

But investigators have yet to track down an address for Urena, who allegedly recruits young men online to assist with her robberies. Sometimes, the men are inside the bank during the robbery. Other times, police believe they serve as getaway drivers. Witnesses have reported different types of vehicles being used at different banks.

And though most of the robberies have taken place in the morning, investigators have not identified a pattern in the days nor the locations that have been robbed by the woman.

“Could there be others? Sure there could be others,” Rowson said. “These are just the ones we know of so far.”

The crime spree began on Oct. 30 at a Wells Fargo Bank in Stone Mountain, where the woman robber presented a demand note but wasn’t able to get any cash, according to police. Undeterred, the same woman then drove 20 miles to Clayton County and went inside the Associated Credit Union in Ellenwood.

Dressed in all black and wearing black sunglasses, the Freedom Fighter Bandit gave a teller a paper note demanding money “for the streets” and “for the movement” and claimed to have a bomb, according to Sgt. Ashanti Marbury with the Clayton County police department. The robber has not pulled a gun in any of her robberies.

“As the bank teller gathered the money (to provide to the bank robber), the robber stated to the teller that she would pray for her and also reiterated that the bomb would go off at any time,” Marbury said in a press release.

She walked away with an undisclosed amount of cash, but then returned to ask the teller to return her demand letter, according to police. In later heists, she showed bank employees a demand for money on her phone rather than on paper, and again threatened she had explosives, investigators said.

“Bank robbery is a crime of violence,” Quick said. “You have to assume she has a bomb or a gun if that’s what she’s saying. You just can’t take that chance.”

On Nov. 1, the robber returned to DeKalb County, this time robbing the Citizen Trust Bank on Panola Road in Lithonia. Two days later, she hit the road, robbing two banks 60 miles apart, according to police.

“She’ll go from one end of the city to the other in the same day,” Rowson said.

After robbing Georgia’s Own Credit Union in Grayson on Nov. 3, investigators believe she drove to a Bank of the Ozarks branch in Douglasville. Later that night, two teenagers believed involved with the Douglasville robbery were arrested, according to police.

She waited just over a month before striking again, according to investigators. On Dec. 4, she traveled to Madison County to rob the First Citizens Bank in Comer, about 20 miles northeast of Athens, according to police. This time, she wore a blonde wig, surveillance pictures showed.

On Dec. 13, she robbed the First National Bank in Griffin, according to the FBI. After nearly a month-long break, her next target was a BB&T Bank in Loganville on Jan. 19. For her latest robbery, Urena hit the Hamilton State Bank on Hardee Street in Dallas, the FBI said.

“She must know she’s wanted because the last two robberies she had a bandana over her face,” Rowson said.

In all of the robberies, the woman mentions she needs the money for a social cause, though the FBI declined to release the specifics of her causes.

On what appears to be the Facebook page for the woman investigators are seeking, Nilsa Marie Urena, she last posted publicly on Nov. 17. Urena quotes the Bible and her hatred of President Donald Trump.

“X Marks the spot!” her last post read. “Message from God. Those who accepts the mark shall be thrown in the lake of fire! We have become enslaved by technology.”

Investigators are asking for the public’s help in finding Urena or any of her male accomplices, and a reward is being offered through CrimeStoppers Atlanta. Tipsters can remain anonymous by calling 404-577-TIPS (8477).

Tips from the public are often key to getting bank robbers off the street, Quick said. The robber’s motives and her “causes” won’t matter once she’s been caught, he said.

“You’re committing a bank robbery, which is a serious offense and crime of violence,” Quick said. “The FBI doesn’t care about anyone’s politics or why they rob banks.”

The latest robbery took place Thursday at the Hamilton Bank on Hardee Street in Dallas.