What nearly turned out to be Anh Pham’s final night was passing quietly – until the man wearing a white mask came into his southeast Wichita convenience store and pointed a gun at him.
He demanded money from the cash register of Phamily Express, but Pham refused. The masked man pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t fire.
“I thought, ‘I’m dead,’ ” Pham said, standing where the assailant first confronted him at about 8:20 p.m. inside the store at 1203 E. Pawnee, just east of Washington. “I froze.”
His legs couldn’t move for what seemed like forever, he said. In reality, he said, it was perhaps 30 seconds before he dashed down that front aisle to the back of the store, then ducked down as he ran to the far corner.
He dialed 911 and then, still crouching, reached into the coolers where the bottles of water and soda are on display and began grabbing bottles. Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Coke, water – he doesn’t remember what they were.
He threw them toward the man with the gun, who responded by firing shots toward the far end of the convenience store.
“He thought I was running down that far aisle,” Pham said of the robber, “but I wasn’t.”
One bullet lodged in the wall on the east side of the store. Another slug dented the soda machine that faced the front door. The masked man left the store without the cash he demanded.
It was the first time someone had tried to rob the store in the year Pham has owned it. People had been telling him since he bought the store that he needed to carry a gun for protection. He refused – until Tuesday.
“I learned my lesson,” he said.
He doesn’t want to use it, he said, but it might prove valuable to have around anyway.
“Maybe they have second thoughts,” he said of potential robbers who see him with the gun.
The suspect is a black man in his 20s who is between 5-foot-9 and 5-11, Lt. Dan East said. He weighs about 170 pounds. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, black shoes and a black bandanna on his head. He also had a white mask over his face.
Police do not encourage employees to resist criminals when they are committing a robbery, East said.
“We’re very fortunate there were no injuries,” he said. “The property is not worth the injuries that could be sustained for not complying.”
Pham said he had a simple reason for saying no.
“I didn’t want to give him the money,” he said.
His sister, who was inside the cashier’s cage at the time of the crime, was not hurt.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call detectives at 316-268-4177 or Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111, East said. Tips may also be submitted online at www.WichitaCrimeStoppers.com or from a mobile phone by texting TIP217 then the message to CRIMES (274637). All ways are secure and anonymous.