Store clerk noted for her smiles, generosity

Woman in critical condition

FORT MILL -- Yen Nguyen's sunny smile and chicken tenders draw loyal customers to a convenience store perched atop a small incline in downtown Fort Mill.

John Boy's Valero is where the 54-year-old Vietnamese native has worked for a more than a decade since coming to America in 1982. It's also where she was shot Tuesday after a gunman robbed the Spratt Street store.

Nguyen, dubbed "Mom" by some customers, remained hospitalized Thursday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. She was listed in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"She would do anything for anybody," said one of her sons, who asked not to be identified. "If anyone needed anything, she is there to help."

Former Fort Mill Mayor Charlie Powers also was shot Tuesday during the robbery. He was released Wednesday from CMC.

No one has been arrested in the shootings, said Capt. Bryan Zachary of the Fort Mill Police Department.

"The case is being investigated very diligently," Zachary said.

Dream shattered

Authorities did not release any new information on Thursday, though an emotionally wrought son spoke of his mother's endurance to live the American dream.

"I'm upset with whoever went in and did this to a vulnerable lady, who worked hard all her life to bring her kids to this land of opportunity," the son said Thursday. "To have someone go in there and try and take her life after all the hard work that she's put in."

The store remained closed Thursday and it will not open today, Nguyen's son said.

"We are going to open it back up, but we don't know when," he said.

In Fort Mill, Nguyen's extended family -- her customers -- missed the woman whose business was steps away. Kike Blades crosses the street from her hair salon daily to pick up snacks at John Boy's.

"She's always smiling," said Blades, stylist and owner of Papillon Hair Design. "She'd say, 'How are you? Are you going to get chicken tenders today?' She always knows what we get for lunch.

"When she smiles, her whole face glows," a teary eyed Blades said. "I miss that. We want her to have a speedy recovery. We want her back."

On Tuesday, police responded to John Boy's around 8:30 p.m. and found the wounded Nguyen on the floor behind the store counter. Police said Nguyen gave the gunman what money she had, but he shot her anyway. The assailant also shot 68-year-old Powers as the former mayor entered the store. Powers was shot once in the face.

"I'm outraged that something like that would happen to such a good, honest and hardworking person," said hair stylist Donna Williams, who left the nearby salon just before the robbery. "No one deserves to be shot down at their place of business."

Police have not disclosed how much money was stolen.

"I don't know what he got from robbing that store, but what he's done to Yen's life wasn't worth it," Williams said.

English isn't Nguyen's first language, but her customers say she welcomes them with a nod and good service. Nguyen would cook and serve food, including her famous chicken tenders, during the lunch rush while her husband ran the cash register. And she had a helping spirit, Blades said.

"She's waited on me, and I didn't have enough change," Blades recalled. "She always said, 'Don't worry about it.'"

Nguyen never looked for Blades to pay the money back, Blades said.

"I'm wondering when are they going to be back," she said. "Things won't be the same because of the shooting."

Next door, Jeff Mullis of Fort Mill Motor Co. stared at John Boy's unusually empty parking lot and remnants of yellow crime tape.

"It's just tragic," Mullis said. "How much worse could it be? It's real bad that Mom would work that hard and someone would come in there and take it away."

Despite everything, Nguyen's son is grateful.

"The good Lord was watching over her on Tuesday," he said.