Clerk invokes faith to talk man out of robbery

MIAMI — Nayara Goncalves already experienced one of the "biggest moments" of her life: becoming a Christian.

The second came last month, when the 20-year-old cell phone store manager put her good works to good use — persuading a would-be armed robber to put away his gun and leave her store in the name of the Lord.

Every moment of the more than five-minute exchange between a calm Goncalves and the nervous, unidentified robber was captured on a store surveillance camera.

The robber walked into a MetroPCS store in Pompano Beach, Fla., around 10 a.m. on July 23, wearing a dark cap and jacket and holding an umbrella.

He exchanged pleasantries with Goncalves, asking whether she was keeping dry, then asked to see a phone.

Moments later, he reached into his coat, apparently showing her a gun. He apologized: "I really hate to do this. ... Don't be scared."

"I'm not scared," replied Goncalves, a devout Christian who was working alone. She calmly walked back to her cash register, telling the man, "You can do whatever you want, but I'm just going to talk to you about Jesus, my God, before you leave."

The man momentarily paused, and said, "God bless you for that."

Goncalves told him she is a Christian. He replied sheepishly, "So am I and I absolutely hate doing this. I do. I'm embarrassed to do this. But I have no choice."

He said he had attended Calvary Chapel.

"Calvary Chapel? Pastor Bob?" Goncalves asks, saying she had visited the church led by Bob Coy in North Broward, Fla. Yes, the robber replies, "Pastor Bob."

"I'm so sorry to put you through this," he said.

Goncalves continued to talk to the man, giving soothing responses of "I know, I know," as he opened up about his troubles — telling Goncalves he's married, has a job, and that he needed $300 to stave off eviction.

As if sensing an opening, Goncalves continued, her voice breaking for a split second, "I don't know what you're going through. But all of us are going through a hard time right now."

The man barely looked at her. "That's why I refuse to do anything out in the streets. I've never done this before."

She offered to connect him with friends to help him find a job.

He said he had had one.

She suggested he seek a loan from a friend.

He said he had spent the last three days trying to do that, to no avail.

"I'm not very good at this, obviously. If there's no money in the register, can you show me?"

The man reasoned that since she wasn't the store's owner, "I wouldn't be hurting you."

But her single break from the gospel truth came when she gently fibbed that her employer would take any stolen money out of her pay.

He threw in the towel.

"I don't want to do that to you. I'm sorry," he said, turning to walk away. "I understand you still have to call the police. ..."

Ever calm, Goncalves called out to him as he walked off. "You know you don't need to do that. You know Jesus. He can help you!"

He blessed her a second time.

Emboldened, Goncalves urged him to "go back to church." Before leaving the storefront, he called back: "You know one thing? Good is coming your way for what you did today."

Then he confessed: "You wanna know something? It's not real. It's a BB gun. That's how great I am at this."

She urged him to "be careful, have a good one. May God bless you."

And he was gone.

Broward sheriff's deputies are looking for a mustachioed male, 5-foot-9, in his late-30s to mid-40s and possibly armed.

"I haven't seen anything like this in 14 years," said sheriff's spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright. "She really seemed to have no fear."

In retrospect, Goncalves said the man seemed to have lost all hope.

"To tell you the truth, I believe him when he said he wasn't a bad guy — like a criminal all the time. I believe that he was just desperate, like he said."