Andrew Dys

SC convenience store clerk shooting hurts other immigrants seeking American Dream

When a convenience store owner or clerk is shot in York County, word spreads quickly among the hundreds of immigrants who also work that most dangerous of retail jobs.

By Thursday afternoon, just hours after Indian immigrant Vipul Patel was shot in a robbery at his store at the corner of Cherry Road and West Main Street, store owners originally from India and Pakistan, Vietnam and the Middle East all were upset. Worse, now these hard-working people must be even warier because of the most recent shooting of a man who was doing nothing more than work.

“It’s crazy, this shooting, he is such a good guy and he works hard like we all do,” said Mike Sharifi, a Persian-American who owns the Mr. Express store on Nations Ford Road. “We know in this business that you have to be careful. Maybe we need more police to be out there watching.”

Yet it was the police – Rock Hill patrolmen – who saw two men running from the store and caught one of the outrageously brazen attackers. The word “brazen” is appropriate because the store sits across the street from the York County Sheriff’s Office substation.

Yet two people allegedly went into the store and shot a clerk who does nothing in America but work almost every day of his life. The convenience store business is dominated locally by immigrants, who work the stores, stay all hours, without asking the government or anybody else for anything.

Just south of the store where the shooting happened, an Indian immigrant runs a store. Just west, a Vietnamese family. To the north, other Indian and Vietnamese immigrants work hard and fear that shiftless thieves, will try to take what is theirs.

One Indian immigrant who runs a store on Herlong Avenue called the people who will steal and shoot “sick people.”

“This latest shooting, it is distressing because every one of us, immigrants who do this, are doing it so our children can have a better life,” said Manoj Nampoothiry, who owns a store farther north on Cherry Road. “All of us feel for him and his family.”

Bob Patel, an immigrant from India who is not related to the victim, owns a convenience store on East Main Street that he said has been robbed twice. Both times, the culprits were caught, prosecuted, and ended up where these gun-toting thieves who will not work belong – prison.

“It is very hard to run a business, but this will not stop us,” he said.

Then Bob Patel asked how he might help a minister who had a grill stolen two weeks ago.

“I believe in helping people,” said Bob Patel.

In 2007, an immigrant named Omar Patel – believed to be no relation to the most recent shooting – was shot and killed at a tiny store in Fort Mill. He was putting his son through college and medical school. That case remains an active investigation but is unsolved, Fort Mill Police said.

The next year, 2008, a crime spree by a serial robber and shooter named Phillip Watts paralyzed York County in fear with five robberies and four shootings over a span of just a few weeks. Vietnamese shop owner Yen Nguyen in Fort Mill was shot. Watts also shot former Fort Mill Mayor Charles Powers – a customer – in that awful attack. Watts shot an immigrant from China named Ping Chen who runs a Rock Hill fish market, and he later shot a customer named Ida Neal Lord during a robbery at a Rock Hill check cashing business. Lord was left paralyzed, and only after years is back on her feet.

When she heard of the shooting Thursday, Lord said, “Oh no! This is terrible!”

Watts, the worst of these shooters, is serving consecutive life sentences and will die in prison.

But the shooting of clerks during robberies at convenience stores is not restricted to just immigrants. In 2006, five men robbed 69-year-old Ned Marshall at a Celanese Road store. Marshall shot one of the suspects before he was gunned down. It took weeks, but all were caught, and all went where gun-toting thieves should always go – prison.

In 2010, a 22-year-old American-born man of Yemeni descent, Malek Salem, was robbed at gunpoint at the Rock Hill truck stop where Salem was working the night shift. Salem fought back with a knife from the counter, but the gunman killed him. That case also is unsolved.

A set of Vietnamese owners of Rock Hill stores near the most recent crime said that each is praying for Vipul Patel’s recovery. They also hope that police catch the second suspect. Indian immigrants who know Patel from religious services said he is a nice, quiet man.

Ashu Patel – no relation to the victim, but an acquaintance – who runs a store next-door to the unsolved 2010 killing, said, “We definitely want whoever did this caught.”

But in the convenience store business, these immigrants have to stay open, work six and seven days a week, sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day, or starve. So each store opened Thursday after this most recent awful violence against a clerk.

Each of these people deserves better than these career criminals who continually rob and shoot and maim and kill. The man caught another suspect remains at large – lives just a couple of streets over from the store where he is alleged to have shot the clerk.

Ida Neal Lord, who said Jesus Christ saved her from death after Watts shot her in 2008, said she will pray for this clerk she has never met.

“This person who was shot, he needs to know that people like me care about him, God loves him, and that good always wins over evil,” Lord said. “Tell him he is loved. Tell him not to give up.”