Owner to reopen Catonsville convenience store where double shooting occurred

After recovering from being shot in the face, Sudhir Shah will reopen store with minor changes

May 07, 2010|By Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun

Starting today, Sudhir Shah will close his Catonsville convenience store three hours earlier. In the fall, he will lock the door at dusk and only take in customers whose faces he recognizes.

The changes, though, will end there. Shah said he won't keep a gun, trusting, instead that something such as the November robbery at his store — in which he was shot in the head and a customer was killed in front of him — will never happen again.

"It screwed up my life," said Shah, as he prepared the store earlier this week to reopen on a full-time basis with a communitywide celebration. "And I have bad memories in my mind. I'm going to work. I have to. But I'm not going to own a gun. Don't believe in that."

Shah has owned Yours Convenience Store off the 700 block of Frederick Road for four years. Neighbors call his business the definition of the friendly corner market, which is why news of the double shooting there that closed the store for six months rattled residents.

Customers, friends and supporters from all over Catonsville are expected to gather today in the parking lot of the strip mall where the store is located, in an event organizers say will be part-festival, part-fundraiser for Shah and his business.

The 55-year-old native of India said he needs both. The outpouring from the community is the reason why he wants to continue running the store, and the money he hopes to raise would help shave the mounting medical costs arising from multiple surgeries to his shattered jaw.

Shah's mouth remains slightly disfigured, and his words flow out of the left side of his mouth. He has lost vision in his right eye and hearing in his right ear, near where the bullet exited his body.

He has opened the store on occasion since the shooting, but with no health insurance and no steady income since the shooting, Shah said he finds his debt approaching six figures.

"Mr. Shah really needs this," said Catonsville resident Shannon Kaiser, a dentist. Kaiser's brother, Brian Meise, 52, was the customer killed during the attack.

"Just for his pride, his self-esteem, to be working is very important to him," Kaiser said. "This is what he knows. Even though there is a danger ... Mr. Shah, for his emotional well-being, he needs to get out every day and have a purpose and keep in contact with his clients."

Kaiser said she will continue to be one of them. She saw a light inside the store about a month after the attack and asked Shah for a first-hand account, wanting to know how her brother spent the last moments of his life. Kaiser said the two have been "like family" since.

When he shares the story about the night of the shooting, Shah still seems to struggle to understand why the man pulled the trigger. About 7 p.m. on Nov. 17, Shah was alone in the store when Meise, a close friend and regular customer, entered. Meise had barely said hello before an armed man wearing a mask came through the door, ordering the construction worker to the ground.

Meise knelt down, and before he said a word, was shot in the head. The gunman then ordered Shah to empty the cash register. Shah gave the suspect everything he had before the man fired a shot at his face.

"I did what he wanted," Shah said.

Five days later, the gunman and another man suspected to have driven the getaway car were arrested after a shootout with city police in West Baltimore. The gunman was shot in the abdomen but survived.

Baltimore County police say the suspects remain locked up as detectives await the results of ballistics testing. Their names are being withheld pending charges, a department spokesman said.

Shah said he was relieved arrests have been made. He moved to Baltimore from India 15 years ago with his wife and son, who is now 22 years old. Shah said he came to the area to be closer to his parents and siblings, all of whom had moved to Maryland.

He worked several years as a shipment manager for a medical supply company but was let go when the business relocated to Australia. Out of work, Shah bought groceries at the convenience store near his home. An informal conversation with the shop's owner eventually led him to buy the man out.

Shah said he turned a profit at the store and had few problems.

"Before, I only had little problems," he said. "Kids throwing rocks through my glass. But never something like this."

Despite the attack, his wife and son support his returning to work.

With few instances of gun violence in Catonsville, a town of about 50,000 people, word of the shootings spread fast.

Tom Quirk said he was at a community meeting the same night as the shooting, and that the attack stunned residents.

"Everyone was like, what can we do to help? Because Catonsville is really like Mayberry, everyone wants to help each other," said Quirk, a regular shopper at the store.

Quirk said they all settled on the parking lot celebration after Shah announced that he would reopen. Organizers say there will be Indian food and a few short speeches beginning at 3 p.m.

The festivities will be over in a few hours. Then Shah will turn off the lights by 7, his new closing time, and what Catonsville residents hope will be the only residual from the shootings.

"There was a lot of fear and disbelief that this type of [crime] hit the center of town," Kaiser said. "But I don't think people worry about this, day to day. I don't think it's going to [stop] people from shopping there."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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