This is the first part in a series about a knife-point robbery at Cornell and the unlikely hero who helped stop him.

Ithaca, N.Y. — On Nov. 19, 2013, an employee at Cornell’s Synapsis Café was working in back of the café’s kitchen. It was 4:45 p.m. — around an hour after the cafe had closed for the day.

Suddenly, the kitchen door slid shut. A man in a dark hoodie and a black and white scarf appeared, brandishing a knife at the female employee.

“Give me money, (expletive), or I’ll stab you,” the man said.

The employee put her hands in the air.

“No problem,” she said, according to court documents that provide this accou t. “I’ll get you the money.”

She opened cafe’s safe and handed over a thick wad of cash — between $700 and $800. After putting the money into a paper bag, the man reached over and slashed the phone lines.

“Just go,” she said.

The money, apparently, wasn’t enough.

“We are going out back,” the man replied, court records say. “We are going into the elevator and going downstairs.”

Cornell’s Synapsis Cafe
Cornell’s Synapsis Cafe

The woman later testified that she was terrified.

“I was really scared that he was going to get me downstairs and do something to me,” she said.

Just then, as the pair walked into the elevator, the employee darted out onto the main floor of Weill Hall and screamed for help.


Connection to Cornell?

On July 3, a Tompkins County jury found Rishawn Vieweg, 25, guilty of robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, according to a press release from the district attorney’s office.

Extensive police records have now been made public that show what precipitated the robbery and its aftermath.

David Honan, deputy chief of Cornell police, told The Cornell Daily Sun after Vieweg’s arrest in November 2013 that the man was not affiliated with the University.

“Vieweg — who is not and has never been a Cornell student, and is not currently affiliated with the University — is pending arraignment in the Ithaca City Court, according to Honan,” The Sun reported.

Rishawn Vieweg

Court documents don’t contradict that account. But they do show that Vieweg was an employee at Synapsis sometime before the robbery.

“Rishawn had worked at Synapsis for approximately three to four weeks back in August, but had been let go for performance issues,” the woman told police.

Another court document, submitted by the prosecution, states, “Although the woman was unable to identify the defendant, she did recognize that the defendant was a former employee of the cafe who was dismissed months earlier.”

The woman was one of only two employees who knew the combination to the safe, according to records from the trial. After being threatened, the woman reportedly fled, screaming for help.

Vieweg began fleeing in another direction. But then he was suddenly stopped.

Check back with The Ithaca Voice for the second part in this two-part story.