Just after 2 p.m. Wednesday, a person in Corpus Christi, Texas, had just completed a transaction at a Bank of America ATM when a surprise slid through the receipt slot.
“Please help,” read a handwritten note on a thin strip of paper. “I’m stuck in here, and I don’t have my phone.”
The person, whose age and gender the authorities did not provide, did not know quite what to do. But it so happened that a Corpus Christi police officer was driving by, so the person went a step beyond what other ATM users had been willing to do and flagged down the officer.
The officer, like previous bank patrons, initially thought the note was a joke — some sort of “Candid Camera”-type prank that no one wanted to fall for.
But then the officer approached the ATM, and when he listened closely, he could hear a faint sound.
This was how the police came to discover a man who had been trapped for hours inside an ATM, said Gena Pena, a spokeswoman for the Corpus Christi Police Department.
“Honestly we can’t say it’s never happened,” Pena said in an interview Thursday. “But 95 percent of people will have their phone on them,” she added, and for about three hours, she said, this man did not.
How does one become stuck inside an ATM in the first place? Pena said it happened this way:
The ATM was affixed to a bank, which was under construction, so no employees were inside. The ATM, though, was operational. And somewhere on the site, a door led into what Pena called an “ATM vault” — a room from which a person can service a teller machine from the inside.
A worker arrived Wednesday to repair the “locking mechanism” of the room, Pena said. The door shut behind the worker, and somehow, she said, the man locked himself in.
The worker, whom the police did not identify, had left his phone inside a vehicle. But once he realized that people were using the ATM, the man began slipping notes out the receipt slot, a solution Pena thought was “pretty ingenious.”
Unfortunately for the man, several ATM users who got a note thought they were being pranked and apparently did nothing.
“He was kind of upset,” Pena said of the contract worker.
Indeed, the man would later tell the police that he had been screaming for help. Something about the room, though, must have muffled the sound, Pena said.
So there the man remained until, finally, one ATM user took one of the worker’s notes seriously enough to tell the passing police officer. The note instructed its reader to “call my boss” and provided a phone number. Once the authorities did, they reached the man’s supervisor who confirmed he had sent a worker to the site.
Attempts were then made to reach the worker, Pena said, but unsurprisingly, they were unsuccessful.
The police eventually kicked down the door and gained access to the man. It took about 30 minutes to release him “from captivity, basically,” Pena said.
No criminal act had been committed, so the police did not file a report, she said, adding that the man was not technically “in distress.”
He was, however, “mortified,” Pena said. “He just wants it to go away.”
Perhaps as a result, neither the man nor his contracting company wanted to be interviewed, Pena said. The police would not provide any information about the man or the contracting company.
The police also did not name the bank involved or provide the contents of the note the ATM user received. However video footage released by KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi showed those details, and Pena confirmed that the footage was accurate.
The contractor “didn’t think this was going to happen, obviously,” Pena said. “I feel bad for him.”