It was all over in a few seconds.

But to Meghan Rozell, 28, her encounter with an armed robber felt much longer.

She was six months pregnant with her son when she agreed to work the Christmas Day shift at Lolita's Market & Deli, 800 Pearl St., this past year. She said she liked working holidays at the small grocery because people were generally friendly and the tips were good.

The day progressed smoothly until 3:46 p.m., when a man wearing sunglasses and a white do-rag — later identified as Alishan Yapoujian, 25, of Boulder — entered the store.

After milling about the back of the store, waiting for a few other shoppers to leave, Yapoujian approached Rozell at the counter, displayed a gun he had tucked in his waist and demanded she open the drawer, saying, "This is for my family," before absconding with a still-undisclosed amount of cash.

"When you're in the middle of a situation like that, your mind has no way of telling what kind of time is occurring," Rozell said of her seconds-long interaction with Yapoujian, who police say was in the middle of a spree of armed robberies in the Boulder area at the time.

"I remember the detective had asked me how long the actual robbery took and I'm, like, 'I don't know; 15, 20 (minutes)?' I think he was in the store for three to four minutes. It felt like 15, 20 minutes because it goes slow. Your brain is still trying to catch up with what is going on."

Now, nearly eight months later, Rozell is living in Woodland Park with her family, raising her son, Ethan.

Sentencing awaits

Yapoujian is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in June to two counts of felony armed robbery in exchange for eight other charges against him — including six other robberies — being dropped. Both of the robberies Yapoujian pleaded guilty to occurred at Lolita's, prosecutors say. The security cameras inside the market were instrumental in identifying him.

Meghan Rozell with her son, Ethan, talks about her experience in the Christmas Day robbery at gunpoint of Lolita’s Market in Boulder. Rozell was six
Meghan Rozell with her son, Ethan, talks about her experience in the Christmas Day robbery at gunpoint of Lolita's Market in Boulder. Rozell was six months pregnant at the time. Alishan Yapoujian pleaded guilty to the crime and will be sentenced later this month.

Rozell plans to speak at Yapoujian's sentencing hearing Aug. 29 to "make sure he gets what is coming to him."

She said he is already getting off the hook for other robberies, and she wants him to receive a stiff sentence.

"You hear about robberies all the time, and you hear about situations like this and nobody gets hurt, so you don't think much of it; it's not a big deal," Rozell said. "But it's a violation. It's a huge personal violation to be put in this vulnerable position.

"It was less about threatening my life, but also threatening my child's life, and that made me livid," she said. "The big part for me is I want to make sure that just retribution is enacted."

The maximum prison time Yapoujian can face was capped at 24 years when he finalized his plea agreement, said Fred Johnson, deputy district attorney. He could face as few as 10 years, Johnson said.

Johnson was reluctant to say what sentence he would be asking the judge for, pointing to contributing factors that have yet to be finalized in the case.

"Our office carefully considers the proper sentence on each case, and we wait for all the information, which includes a pre-sentence investigation, before making decisions on our recommendations," he said.

'I didn't know PTSD was a real thing.'

After one sleepless, adrenaline-pumping night after the robbery, and a day off on Dec. 26, Rozell went back to work on the 27th. She said she was ready to go back to work, but she didn't come out of her encounter with Yapoujian unscathed.

"I did that partly because I didn't want him to take anything from me personally. It's my job, I like being there, I wanted to work," she said. "What was interesting is over the course of the week, there were different points where I would find myself jumpy. My coworker's kids ran in one day to say hi to her and they come running through the store, and I lost it for a second.

Alishan Yapoujian
Alishan Yapoujian (Courtesy photo/Boulder County Sheriff's Office)

"I didn't know that PTSD was a real thing," Rozell said, "especially for something that felt like such a small deal because it happened so quickly and nobody got hurt and nobody died, so why would I act so viscerally to it? But I did."

In addition to jumpiness in the weeks that followed the robbery — weeks during which Yapoujian and at least one other man involved in the crime spree were apprehended and charged — Rozell said she dealt with other residual impacts. For one, she had trouble trusting people, especially those wearing sunglasses, as Yapoujian did when he demanded the money.

"You can't see the intent in somebody's eye," she said. "You can read a lot about a person through their eyes, and when you cover that, that goes away, so I didn't have that ability to go, 'Are you threatening?'"

Rozell said she received overwhelming support from Lolita's ownership, management and other employees as well as the store's strong community of regular customers in the West Pearl Street area.

At court, 'I stared him dead on.'

Rozell said she felt the need to face Yapoujian in the aftermath of the robbery, and she already has once, attending his first court appearance in the Boulder County Jail's courtroom, sitting directly behind his family.

She previously worked for Yapoujian's father, Artine Yapoujian, who owns the chain of Brewing Market Coffee shops.

"I stared him dead on," she said, adding she did it to "put into context for him that I'm not just some thing. I'm not just some object that you robbed; I'm a person."

Lee Scriggins, a spokeswoman for Community Health at the University of Colorado who has done violence prevention work at CU, said Rozell's desire to confront Yapoujian is a natural response for some people.

"Different people have different reactions, and certainly the feeling to confront somebody in court is very understandable," Scriggins said. "Not everybody wants it. ... It's all about their need to regain control and make sense of their own experience."

Former Boulder District Court Judge Murray Richtel said he always valued victim statements before sentencing as a means to better understand what victims went through.

"If you haven't been a victim yourself, it can be very difficult to understand that pain," he said.

"There is delicate balance there because you don't want to make the victim think they are not heard, but on the other hand it is important for the judge to help the victim understand they can't control the sentence," he said.

'We apologize from the bottom of our hearts.'

The robber's father, Artine Yapoujian, also will be speaking at the sentencing hearing, where he hopes to sway the judge to be lenient. Yapoujian said he wants to shed light on the circumstances surrounding his son's crime spree.

"We knew he was struggling with drugs. This is all a result of being on drugs and his habits," Artine Yapoujian said. "He's a very good boy, and he's a very smart and kind human being, and this is very unfortunate."

The father said his son was in a drug rehabilitation program earlier this year after his family was able to post $300,000 in property to bond him out of jail.

The rehab effort was interrupted by a forgery arrest in Denver in May that sent Alishan Yapoujian back to the Boulder County Jail on $500,000 bond, where he remains.

Artine Yapoujian said he hopes his son will get a chance to continue his treatment. He also apologized to the victims of his son's actions.

"All I can do as Alishan's father is ask for forgiveness," he said. "We apologize from the bottom of our hearts. We feel awful they had to go through that."

Yapoujian has an arrest record dating back to 2005.

In Rozell's view, Alishan Yapoujian represents too substantial a risk to the Boulder community to be granted leniency.

"The big deal, I guess, for me is I don't think he has enough respect for other people or respect for his community enough to be free," she said. "I do think that he would do this again."

Kevin Darrell Hall, who pleaded guilty in June to accessory charges related to Yapoujian's crime spree, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 22. Rex Hickman, who has also been cross referenced in Yapoujian's case, was sentenced in May to eight years in prison for aggravated robbery, court records show.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.