In the early hush of Friday morning, the manager and his young employee had finished another long shift, shuttered their Bronx bodega and headed home. But the young assistant had forgotten to grab a bar of soap that he needed. They went back, and when they unlocked the door, the thing so feared by those who work in neighborhoods contaminated by crime followed them in.
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Before the criminals could finish, an arriving customer saw what was happening through the window and called the police.
In one of those chilling split-second dramas that become tragedy, the manager got out unharmed but his assistant was killed by a police bullet. The authorities said it was the result of an accidental discharge when the young man collided with a police officer in his frightened haste to escape the criminals.
Father was killed by muggers The dead man was identified as Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, a nephew of the store’s owner. He had worked in the bodega for six months and was helping to support a 3-year-old daughter in the Dominican Republic. Two years ago, his own father was shot to death in the Dominican Republic trying to ward off muggers wanting to steal his jewelry.
Mr. Cuevas’s killing was the third high-profile fatal police shooting in four weeks, although the circumstances on Friday were quite different from the previous two deaths, of a knife-carrying man near Times Square and of a man who killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building.
Empire State shooting: Bystanders hit by police rounds
The episode Friday began shortly before 2 a.m. at the Aneurys Deli on Franklin Avenue at East 169th Street in Morrisania. Felix Mora, 43, the store’s manager for nine years, and Mr. Cuevas had barely opened the door to fetch the soap when the three men descended on them, one of them holding a gun.
“He pointed the gun at us and was saying, ‘Get on the ground!’ ” Mr. Mora said. “We got on the ground.”
The gunman hit Mr. Mora in the head with the butt of the gun. Mistaking the relationship between the workers, he shouted at Mr. Mora, “If you move, we’re going to kill your son.”
The gunman began rooting through Mr. Mora’s pockets, while the two other men went behind the counter to fill the backpack with lottery tickets and the money Mr. Mora kept in a cigar box.
Officers arrive Within minutes of the customer’s 911 call, the authorities said, two officers from the local precinct house and two housing officers converged on the scene.
One of the housing officers peeked through the bodega’s window to assess the situation.
The gunman saw him, Mr. Mora said, and leapt behind the counter with his accomplices and shouted, “Policía, policía, policía!”
Two of the robbers retreated to the rear of the store.
Mr. Mora said that sensing an opportunity, he ran out the front door with his hands up and confirmed that a robbery was in progress. A moment later, he said, Mr. Cuevas sprinted past him on the sidewalk.
“He came out scared,” Mr. Mora said. “Running.”
A gunshot sounded. Mr. Mora looked and saw Mr. Cuevas crumpled on the ground, his right hand pressed against a bleeding wound. A policeman dragged Mr. Cuevas away by the arm. Mr. Mora met Mr. Cuevas’s eyes.
“He said, ‘Ah!’ He put his hand to his chest, and he just looked at me,” Mr. Mora said.
Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, said an officer with his gun drawn was waiting outside the door when the two workers came out. He said Mr. Cuevas “ran full speed into the officer; the two became entangled, at which point we believe the officer accidentally discharged his weapon.”
The bullet struck Mr. Cuevas in the back of his left shoulder. He was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, where he was pronounced dead. The single bullet had traced a harsh trajectory: it managed to damage the left lung, heart and major blood vessels, the medical examiner’s office said.
Suspects arrested The arrests of the three suspects took an additional four hours.
The authorities said that Christopher Dorsey, 17, trailed the two employees out of the store and surrendered. The other men — Orlando Ramos, 32, who the police said was the gunman, and Ernesto Delgado, 28 — remained holed up inside.
About 5:30 in the morning, Mr. Delgado emerged and claimed he had been held hostage, but the police did not believe him and arrested him.
According to the authorities, officers from the emergency services unit then went into the store and found Mr. Ramos tied to a pole with yellow rope, also pretending to be a hostage.
Mr. Kelly would not identify the officer who shot Mr. Cuevas but said that he had been on the force for seven years and had never before fired his gun. The officer was placed on administrative duty, Mr. Kelly said, pending an internal investigation.
“The tragedy here, of course, is that Mr. Cuevas was shot,” Mr. Kelly said, “but I see nothing wrong with the procedure.”
At a news briefing at Police Headquarters, Mr. Kelly played videos from the bodega’s security cameras. They showed the workers being held inside at gunpoint, their flight from the store and the collision between Mr. Cuevas and the officer.
Later in the afternoon, Mr. Kelly met with Ana Cuevas, Mr. Cuevas’s mother, to express his condolences.
The police charged the three suspects with robbery and with second-degree murder, because the crime led to a death. All three have criminal records, and the police said that Mr. Ramos had a prior robbery arrest.
In a related event, a police officer responding alone to the robbery crashed into a car stopped at a red light not far from the store. The authorities said he sustained a broken left femur and a possible fractured nose and underwent surgery; the civilians in the other car had minor injuries.
Once Mr. Ramos, the accused gunman, was unmasked, Mr. Mora said he recognized him as someone who worked for a while at a neighboring bodega. At 2 o’clock Thursday morning, he said, Mr. Ramos came by as Mr. Mora was leaving his deli.
Mr. Mora said Mr. Ramos told him, “I’ll get you tomorrow.”
Reporting was contributed by Daniel Krieger, Colin Moynihan, Wendy Ruderman and Nate Schweber.
This article, headlined "Just After Closing Time, a Fatal Split Second," first appeared in The New York Times.
Copyright © 2012 The New York Times
This is *EXACTLY* why gun bans don't make any sense. These men would have likely been better off defending themselves with their own weapons rather than waiting on the cops to "rescue" them.