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Store Owner Says He Feared For His Safety When He Killed Armed Robber

Originally ran here as:
"Police seek 2nd man in robbery try"
by Aileen Soperr
The Charlotte Observer
November 30, 2001

1 intruder shot to death

Police seek 2nd man in robbery try

Store owner says he feared for safety of those with him when he fired

GASTONIA, NORTH CAROLINA -- Authorities were searching late Thursday for a man who fled a night earlier when his accomplice was shot and killed by the storeowner they tried to rob, police said.

Six people were inside the West Main Newsstand and Book Nook at 334 W. Main Ave. in downtown Gastonia about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday when, they said, two armed men wearing pantyhose over their heads rushed in the back door.

As one man stood guard at the door, the second pointed a gun at the chest of the business owner, 49-year-old Gary William Cannon, said Gastonia Police Sgt. Danny Parlier.

Cannon told investigators he twice shot one of the robbers with a gun Cannon grabbed from a friend's purse, Parlier said. The wounded man, who was shot in the neck, died on the way to Gaston Memorial Hospital. Witnesses began CPR at the scene, police said.

Police identified the dead man as 29-year-old Derick Christopher Foust of 5701 Leake St., Apt. 14, Charlotte. His criminal record included a half-dozen convictions for drunken driving and selling cocaine, N.C. court records show.

The second, unidentified man fled so quickly, his shoes were left behind, Cannon said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Police said they will submit their findings in the case to the Gaston County district attorney's office, which will decide whether Foust's shooting was done in self-defense or merits criminal charges.

N.C. law provides that citizens may use deadly force if they have reasonable cause to believe their lives or the lives of others are in danger.

Though he has not yet reviewed evidence in the case, District Attorney Mike Lands said by all accounts the shooting appeared to be self-defense.

Cannon, of Gastonia, said he was sad he'd shot Foust. But the experienced hunter and target shooter, who works another job in addition to owning the bookstore, said he was more concerned for the three female friends who were in the shop. Two of the women are pregnant, he said.

Cannon, tired and shaky after a long day of interviews with police and reporters, let his friends do most of the talking Thursday afternoon. Here's what they said happened:

Before the attempted robbery, George O'Donoghue, a part-time clerk at the shop, had just come back from a service at Solid Rock Church in Gastonia. He walked into the store, set his Bible down and began to talk with the others. The crowd inside had propped open the back door to cool the place off.

"All of a sudden, this guy comes running in and says, `This is a robbery,'" O'Donoghue said. One intruder stayed near the door, his gun just inches from O'Donoghue's head. "I was scared to death," O'Donoghue said. "I thought he was going to kill me."

The second one walked farther inside and trained his handgun on Cannon, who was seated at a table talking with three friends - a mother and her two daughters.

Cannon said he acted when the second man turned from him to point his gun at the women. As the intruder turned the gun back toward Cannon, Cannon said he grabbed a .45-caliber handgun from the purse, which was sitting on the table in front of him. He said he knew the woman normally carries a gun.

"I said, `Don't try that here,' and he made a move, so I shot him," Cannon said. Cannon fired a second shot, which also struck the man.

"He had an opportunity to kill me," Cannon said. "He saw me pull out the gun. He hesitated."

The other man fired one shot that lodged in the wall, just inches from one woman's head, witnesses said. He then fled.

Thursday, Cannon and his friends mopped blood off the floor of the two-month-old business across from Gastonia's post office that sells produce, snack food and paperbacks. Employees said people gather at the spot nightly to watch ballgames and meet friends. Three bullet holes gouged a wall, doorframe and the ceiling. Two cushions from the bloodstained sofa had been removed.

Cannon's friends called him a hero for saving their lives.

"He took a chance with his life and saved everyone else," said the owner of a nearby business who was inside the shop during the attempted holdup. He would give his name only as Jay. "He acted out of instinct."

O'Donoghue said that before the incident, he'd attended church Wednesday night for the first time in months. He prayed for his friends during the service, an act he believes might have saved them.

"I'm not lucky," he said. "I just had the good Lord with me last night."

Aileen Soper: (704)868-7741

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