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"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone'

Afraid that stomach cancer is killing him, Bernard Gamble wanted to take care of his family. So two weeks ago, he held up the airport currency exchange where he worked and took $125,000. He will have his day in court today.

He brandished a broken handgun as he robbed the office where he had been a janitor, and cried, realizing he was taking money from people who knew and trusted him.

He dropped off $85,000, handing a cardboard box to his children at the home of his daughter, Donna Chiorando.

He says he spent the next two weeks riding Greyhound buses and longing for his family. He clung to a slip of paper with the name of his daughter Donna and her phone number, as well as the phone number of his wife, Joanne, for notification in case he died.

In newspapers across the nation, his family had appealed for his return. But he says he couldn't read them, because he had lost his glasses.

Late last week, Gamble decided to turn himself in.

"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone," Gamble told New York Newsday. "All I wanted to do was provide for my family, give my wife something to live on after I am gone. People had so much trust in me, and I threw it away. I can only say I'm sorry, but it is from the bottom of my heart."

Under an arrangement with the Queens district attorney's office, he was able to return to the New York area and go to a hospital. He is undergoing tests to determine whether he has stomach cancer.

On Sunday, Gamble tearfully hugged his grandson and children who were gathered around his hospital bed.

Gamble disappeared Oct. 7 after robbing Deak International at Kennedy Airport and telling the employees that he believed he was dying of cancer and needed the money for his family. He said he spent the time since the robbery riding Greyhound buses between Chicago and Florida, and wished every day that he could come home.

"It's no life on the run," said Gamble, who is 59. "Stay with the ones you love for the little time you have left. Give them all the love you can. Because when you are alone, you have nothing."

On Sunday, his five children held his hands and watched over him. "He is back with the people who love him," said his daughter Donna. "Now we're waiting to see what the doctors say. We're waiting to find out how long he will be with us."

Gamble had suffered from severe stomach pains and weight loss, and his family had persuaded him to see a doctor before he disappeared.

"I know what I have," he said Sunday. "I've seen my whole family die of cancer. I know what this is like."

Gamble is to be arraigned on robbery charges at the hospital this morning, said his attorney, Barry Slotnick.

"I can only compliment (Queens District Attorney John) Santucci and his staff for the humane and understanding way they have handled this matter," Slotnick said.

Slotnick said the family, which had returned most of the money after Gamble gave it to them, would return the remaining money taken from Deak International by the end of this week.

Gamble, who worked for Pioneer Cleaning Co. for 15 years, said he never planned his getaway after the robbery. "I just wanted to give my family the money to bury me and to live on when I can't provide for them. I didn't think about anything beyond that."

After the robbery and after dropping off the money, he took a cab to Newark Airport, from where he took a bus to New Jersey and then to Pittsburgh. He then caught another bus to Miami but said he was frightened by the rough crowd at the bus station.

"I was afraid," Gamble said. "Miami looked like it was full of drug addicts and hustlers."

He went to Chicago, but headed south once again, for Fort Lauderdale and then Orlando, where he took a room at a Best Western motel.

He said he befriended an older woman going to a wedding on a bus to Chicago and a man going to serve time for failing to pay child support. He didn't tell anyone who he was and disguised himself by growing a beard and wearing dark glasses and a hat, he said.

While away, he decided to come home within a few weeks to give his family the remaining money and to end his life. He said he was trying to elude police but he couldn't stay out of touch from his family. Three days after the robbery, he left a message on Donna's answering machine and late last week talked with her on the telephone.

It was then that Donna told her father that the family had turned the money over to police before investigators had contacted them.

"I was proud of my kids at that moment," he said Sunday. "I found out that I brought them up right."

Gamble said he was finally persuaded to stop running when his only grandchild, John Chiorando Jr., who is 2{, got on the phone with him.

"He said, "Grandpa, I love you. Come to my house and play ball with me.' "