Had all gone as planned, 19-year-old Heather Johnston of Atlanta would have just completed her first year in college. Instead, she is praying for a second chance and hoping she won't end up in prison.
A little more than a year ago, Johnston graduated from high school. She was, by all accounts, a teenager who had everything going for her. A rising tennis player backed by a supportive, churchgoing family, Johnston was preparing for her freshman year of college, and had even won a scholarship.
But somehow the teen so full of promise took a wrong turn. Authorities believe that an appetite for fast money and pricey goods led her down a path of self-destruction that would bring unimaginable pain to her family.
"I Was Going to Do It My Way"
"The hardest part is, I know that I hurt so many people and I did something so stupid," Johnston said.
It all began, Johnston said, with her night job — one that was kept secret from her family. She began stripping at a club, enticed by the prospect of making upward of $1,000 in a few days. When her family finally confronted her, telling her to stop or move out, the choice was easy. Johnston left home.
"I went wild. I was on drugs most of the time. I didn't care what anyone had to say. I was going to do it my way."
Johnston moved in with Ashley Miller, another stripper from the club. It wasn't long before drug abuse and lighthearted jokes became a catalyst for crime, and a joke about robbing a bank turned into reality. Johnston now faces up to 10 years in jail.
According to Johnston, one February night while hanging out with Miller and Miller's boyfriend, Michael Chastang, the three began joking about the idea of Johnston and Miller robbing a bank. The next morning, Johnston says, Chastang called with specific instructions. He knew a bank teller at a Bank of America branch, and said this bank teller could be their "inside man." The idea to rob a bank was hardly a joke anymore; it was a plan.
'We Were Kind of Excited'
Before she knew it, Johnston says she was on the phone with their "inside man." She says she remembers taking instructions from the bank teller, specifically what to write on the note the young women were going to slip to the teller on the day of the robbery.
While Johnston acknowledged that the note contained threatening language, she wouldn't go into details with ABC News. However, sources tell "Primetime" it read in part, "Remember, I will not hesitate to kill you." With the note written, Johnston and Miller prepared for the heist.
"I have to say, we were kind of excited," Johnston said.
Little did they know how badly things were about to go wrong. Incredibly, Johnston and Miller targeted the wrong Bank of America branch.
She said, "We took a wrong turn somewhere, ended up going to a completely different Bank of America."
At that point, Johnston said, the two called the bank teller for directions. Before long, they arrived at the right Bank of America, at his window — and in front of a camera that would capture photos the whole country would see.
The grainy surveillance photos of the newly christened "Barbie Bandits," two smiling young women in tight jeans and designer sunglasses, would soon be everywhere. But the Barbie Bandits weren't thinking about surveillance. They were thinking about money — suddenly, $11,000 was being moved from the teller to the young women.
"[The bank teller] started throwing it out and it was like going everywhere. So I was pushing it. Ashley was grabbing it, putting it, throwing it in the bag. … We were so scared. My heart was like, I think it stopped at one point and I looked over, we looked at each other, and we just started runnin' again," Johnston said.
Caught in the Act
After the theft, the two left the bank and separated their piles of cash on the floor of their apartment. Johnston explained that they would have to share their new fortune with Miller's boyfriend and the bank teller. At the end, each person involved in the heist received a few thousand dollars.
The pair immediately began talking about how they would spend their cash.
Johnston said, "[We went] straight to the mall [to get] whatever we wanted."
Apparently what they wanted were highlights, an event once again caught on surveillance video at one of Atlanta's priciest hair salons. As the young women were getting their hair done, detectives in Georgia were getting tips — the biggest in the form of surveillance photos from Bank of America.
Hundreds of calls came in to the Cobb County Police Department, coupled with media coverage splashing the bank photos across TV sets throughout the country, and detectives were soon on Johnston and Miller's trail. Two days after the heist, they were surrounded by police officers while in their car. The party was over.
At that point, Johnston said, "I just knew we were going to be in a lot of trouble."
Johnston and Miller were arrested, arraigned and jailed. Miller, who declined to talk to "Primetime," faces charges not only for the bank heist but for drug possession as well. Johnston spent a month in jail before her parents bailed her out.
For Johnston's parents, the whole ordeal has been a nightmare. Lisa Johnston remembers her daughter's call from the police station.
"I've thought as a mother, 'What did I do wrong?'"
Heather Johnston is now at home and says she wants a second shot at college. Collegiate dreams will have to hold off for now — Johnston is awaiting trial and knows that prison time may be in her future.