Police: Des Plaines store owner thwarts armed robbery by shooting at suspect

A 16-year-old who tried to rob a Des Plaines grocery store at gunpoint Saturday was thwarted by the store owner who pulled a gun of his own from behind the counter and fired on the teen, authorities said.

“My first reaction was, 'What do I have to do?'” said Jorge Escobedo, who owns Nuevo Mexico grocery store at 1920 Mannheim Road. “The best thing I could do is take my gun out.”

Escobedo had just started his day Saturday morning, tending to different tasks around his storefront grocery, such as ringing up customers at the front counter, when he noticed the teen.

Dressed in a blue Gap hooded sweatshirt, the teen walked up and down the aisles before coming to the register and putting a package of candy on the counter. The teen then pulled out a handgun and pointed it at Escobedo, telling him, “Give me all of your money!” - first in English, then a second time in Spanish, police said.

When Escobedo refused and the 16-year-old racked his handgun's slide, the store owner hurriedly grabbed his gun from under the counter and did the same, reports state. When the would-be robber saw Escobedo's gun, he ran out of the store, but Escobedo chased after him, firing three shots in his direction.

“I shot at him, but I don't want to kill him,” Escobedo said.

As the teen was running, he tripped on a curb and dropped his cellphone. Escobedo stopped his pursuit, and picked up the phone. Police say the teen got into a getaway car down the block, driven by another 16-year-old.

  A would-be robber at the Nuevo Mexico grocery store in Des Plaines pretended to buy candy, before showing a gun Saturday morning. The store owner had a gun of his own - which he shot three times to thwart the holdup. Mark Welsh/

Police were called to the scene at 9:19 a.m. With the help of witnesses, officers were able to track down the suspected gunman a couple hours later getting his haircut about a mile away, according to Police Chief Bill Kushner.

Both 16-year-olds, who live in Des Plaines, were charged Monday with the armed robbery of the grocery store and two others that occurred last week in Des Plaines: Friday at the Exotic Vapors store, 1926 E. Touhy Ave., and March 20 at Dunkin' Donuts, 1926 S. River Road. Authorities also have connected the suspects to armed robberies in Kildeer, Morton Grove, and an unincorporated area near Palatine, Kushner said.

Investigators say there is video and physical evidence that identifies them. They believe the suspects used a shotgun and pellet gun in the robberies.

Two other juveniles also were taken into custody Saturday, but later released without charges.

Kushner said the suspected gunman in the Saturday morning robbery has been involved in gang activity. One teen is in custody; the other is petitioned into juvenile court.

There were no injuries reported at the grocery store Saturday morning. Authorities say the store clerk was legally licensed and registered to have a firearm.

It's the first time since Escobedo opened the store 10 years ago that he faced a robber.

“I was prepared, but I never think that was going to happen to me,” Escobedo said.

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