Saturday, June 16, 2018
Public safety

East Tampa store owner who survived one shooting is targeted again with fatal results (w/video)

TAMPA — In the 2011 video, Mohamoud Ibrahim stood behind the counter of his tiny east Tampa convenience store, his back to the surveillance camera meant to discourage thieves.

Then a robber walked in, pointed a gun at him and gave him a white bag. Ibrahim handed over his cash drawer, but the robber shot him anyway. Ibrahim survived, but the case remains unsolved.

Last week, another robber walked into Ibrahim's convenience store. This time, the 60-year-old father of four was shot before he handed over any money. He died on the floor of the 29th Street Store, a business he had owned and operated for 16 years.

The robberies and shootings highlight a tragic irony: The mom-and-pop stores owned by people willing to run businesses in riskier areas are essential to their neighborhoods. But they are often the easiest targets for criminals.

"When you're in a small store and choose a high-crime area and you don't have the budget for security, you're sort of setting yourself up for attack," said Chris McGoey, a security expert who specializes in convenience stores. "We need people to run markets in these tough communities. But these robbers are out there doing their thing. All they want is cash and they don't give a hoot about who gets injured in the process."

• • •

The sun was down for about an hour when the armed suspect walked into Ibrahim's store at 6:38 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2011.

In the video, a man wearing a hat, sunglasses and a bandana over his face, points a semi-automatic pistol at Ibrahim and thrusts the bag at him, but it falls to the floor. When the robber jumps onto the counter, Ibrahim raises his hands and then hands over the cash drawer.

The suspect, apparently not satisfied, puts the drawer down and jumps onto the counter again. At that point, the video released by Tampa Police Department ends.

According to police, the rest of the video shows the robber and Ibrahim struggling briefly after Ibrahim tried to grab the gun. The robber pulls the trigger once, hitting Ibrahim in the shoulder, and flees with the cash drawer.

Ibrahim would later tell police that the robber expressed anger that he didn't get more money.

The suspect in Sunday's robbery and shooting, Christopher Anthony Sheffield, didn't wait for the sun to go down, opting instead for a brazen midday robbery, according to an arrest report.

Video surveillance shows the 24-year-old convicted felon walking into the store about 12:30 p.m. holding a handgun and wearing a shirt over his face. Ibrahim "attempts to protect himself by pushing a candy display toward the suspect." Sheffield fires once, the report says.

Ibrahim falls to the floor. Sheffield steps over the store owner, tries to open the register, then "returns his focus to the victim and shoots him again," the report says. Sheffield then opens the register, puts the cash and drawer in a white plastic bag and leaves.

A witness who knows Sheffield from the neighborhood approached the store's door and saw him inside with his face covered, according to the report. Sheffield told the witness "not now" and the witness stayed outside. When Sheffield emerged, he was carrying a bag holding the cash drawer, dropping change as he went along, the witness told investigators.

Another witness also saw Sheffield inside with a gun, and still another witness who was shown the surveillance video identified Sheffield as the robber, the report says.

Police arrested Sheffield about 4 a.m. Monday. He is charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm, among other crimes.

Sheffield has been arrested 17 times in Florida since the age of 17 and served prison time for grand theft auto, burglary and trafficking in stolen property, state records show. None of the prior arrests were for crimes of violence.

It's unclear where he was living at the time of the robbery. The arrest report lists him as "at large."

• • •

Ibrahim's store is a tempting target for a robber, said McGoey, the security expert.

The 700-square-foot building is located about four blocks north of Interstate 4, in a residential area with plenty of escape routes for a robber fleeing on foot or in a car. Sheffield, for example, ran through a yard after the robbery, police said.

"The fact that it's isolated makes it a pretty good choice," said McGoey, a Los Angeles-based consultant who has worked with convenience store chains for 40 years.

The two windows that face the street are covered in beer and cigarette signs so Ibrahim couldn't see who entered the store until they were inside, McGoey noted.

Some stores in higher-crime areas invest in bullet-resistant barriers to protect the clerk and cash register, but those are pricey and come with drawbacks. Because the clerk is enclosed, thieves are emboldened and "grab-and-run" crimes tend to increase, McGoey said.

There is safety in numbers, so police recommend having multiple employees on duty, but for smaller businesses, that's usually not feasible.

Police also advise store employees to behave in a "calm and predictable manner so as not to set off a gunman who is already on edge," Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty said in an email.

"And, despite fear and anger, comply with a gunman's demands," he said. "The money can be replaced and is not worth losing your life."

But that's sometimes easier said than done, McGoey said.

"If you're the one standing there and somebody has a gun in your face threatening to kill you, I believe it's up to the clerk to decide," he said. "If you believe that grabbing that gun is the only way to survive, who's going to say in hindsight that you should have reacted differently?"

• • •

Despite the risks, Ibrahim, whom customers knew as "Abe," stayed in the neighborhood and built a reputation as a firm but caring businessman.

He didn't tolerate nonsense in his store but would let trusted customers take merchandise on credit, said Cindy Campbell, who lives across the street.

"He was nice but he was also strict because he had a place to run," Campbell said.

Campbell, 51, said she was saddened by the news of the shooting, but not surprised.

"You could pretty much see it coming," she said. "It's the people you're dealing with."

In the days after the shooting, a memorial of cards, candles and stuffed animals sprouted in front of the store's steel doors.

Ibrahim's family declined interview requests but his son Jamel Ibrahim told the Tampa Bay Times that the memorial shows his father was important to the community.

"He took care of his extended family at the store," Jamel Ibrahim said. "There's plenty of crime that happens but this many people don't usually show up to show they care."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

     
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