An 86-year-old gun owner, with a legal concealed carry permit, will not face charges after firing wildly at a robbery suspect outside a cell phone store in a Chicago suburb Saturday — even though his vigilante attempt to take down the alleged bad guy caused a police officer who was already chasing the suspect to dive scrambling for cover and let the man get away.
The suspect, 17-year-old Demetrius Merrill of Chicago, was nabbed by cops later when he emerged from a hiding place in the wooded area to which he had escaped earlier.
While Cook County prosecutors called the gun owner, whose name they would not release, a “model citizen” of Crestwood, Illinois, who “helped others avoid being victims,” gun safety experts said that the man’s reckless use of his firearm could easily have ended in tragedy.
“We don’t want people to take the law into their own hands and start chasing suspects. The risk and probability are much higher that you will hit an innocent bystander if you try to be a hero,” Andre Queen, owner of Chicago’s Fidelity Investigative Training Academy, which instructs legal gun owners in the safe use of firearms, told The Chicago Tribune. “Or the permit holder could be shot by the police mistaking him as a bad guy.”
The 86-year-old told police he was approaching the AT&T outlet at 4756 W. Cal-Sag Road in Crestwood when he saw a suspect in the process of robbing the store inside. He said he stood guard outside to make sure that no one else went in, then gave chase when he saw the alleged robber flee out a rear exit.
Police would not reveal whether or not the concealed carry permit holder attempted to call 911 and report the robbery in progress to police. But an officer who was flagged down by bystanders also pursued the robbery suspect.
However, when the elderly man fired two shots, the officer — not knowing who was shooting and from where — took cover and the fleeing suspect got away.
“Since the officer did not know where the shots were fired from, he was forced to terminate his foot pursuit and take cover for his own safety,” a Crestwood police statement said.
When Merrill was later apprehended, he was charged with armed robbery and held on $1 million bail. Police said they found him carrying a duffel bag with 53 iPhones and other merchandise worth a total of $44,000.
The gun rights advocacy site The Truth About Guns admonished the would-be vigilante as “irresponsible” and offered him a list of guidelines for his future gun use:
• Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target
• Be sure of your target and what lies beyond
• Do not shoot at fleeing suspects
• Do not attempt to pursue or arrests a suspect
• Do not shoot wildly such that police officers in the vicinity feel the need to take cover
The advice could apply to any gun owner in the same situation, the site said.