Choosing Life Or Death

What if he’s so high on drugs he pulls the trigger without realizing he may kill me?

What if his finger slips? What if a customer comes in and startles him enough to make him start shooting?

What if he’s cold-blooded enough to decide he ought to eliminate me as a potential witness?

We may never know what thoughts were going through the mind of the pharmacy worker who shot a would-be robber to death May 25 in Wheeling. Any reasonably thoughtful human being knows this, though: He must have been terrified.

And, because one of our reporters saw the man sitting in a police cruiser just after the shooting, we know he was extremely distraught over what he’d just had to do.

Police still are investigating the tragedy. The probe has resulted in the arrest of a woman accused of being an accessory in the crime. At some point a full report on what happened that Friday afternoon in Elm Grove will be released.

What we do know is that at about 5 p.m., a man brandishing a gun walked into the pharmacy, jumped over the counter and demanded a store employee give him pills. Just after a second employee appeared, the first worker retrieved a gun and shot the would-be robber.

In some robbery situations – a bank hold-up, for example – victims may be extremely frightened but accept the warning that if everyone cooperates, no one will get hurt.

A stick-up in which drugs, not money, are demanded is entirely different. By definition, victims know they’re dealing with a unpredictable criminal – someone who may have no good reason to open fire, but may kill them anyway.

In such a situation, facing a man who may very well end your life within seconds, what would you do if there was a gun within your reach?

Before you respond that you wouldn’t even consider taking the life of another, remember you’re making the judgment from the safety of your armchair or breakfast table. We can’t really know what we’d do in such a crisis until we’re in a life-and-death confrontation.

This is going to get worse as the epidemic of prescription drug abuse deepens. More drug store employees are going to face people desperate enough for a “fix” that they decide it’s all right to use force to get more pills.

And in part – but only in part – because one store employee fought back, the next robbery will be more dangerous for all concerned.

Given the type of crime involved, the odds are more people, quite possibly store employees and/or customers, will be shot in drug store hold-ups. It really is only a matter of time until a robber doped-up on painkillers kills someone accidentally, or in a drug-induced haze, decides to eliminate witnesses.

I’ve heard some people who work at pharmacies are talking about arming themselves while at work. Remember: These are our neighbors, the good folks who, while handing you your prescription, ask how the kids are doing. They’re not gun-happy “cowboys.”

But who can blame them for fearing that if they don’t get off the first shot, they may not go home to their families?

Myer can be reached at: