A group of black Ferguson residents armed with high-powered rifles stood outside a white-owned business in the city during recent riots, protecting it from rioters that looted and burned other businesses.
After a grand jury returned no indictment against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, protesters took to the streets and the demonstrations quickly turned into rioting. Several buildings were set ablaze, but a group of heavily armed black men stood outside a Conoco gas station.
One of the residents, a 6-foot-8 man named Derrick Johnson, held an AR-15 assault rifle as he stood in a pickup truck near that store's entrance. Three other black Ferguson residents joined Johnson in front of the store, each of them armed with pistols.
In a city torn apart by racial tensions, the fact that black residents took up arms to defend a white-owned store made headlines.
The men said they felt indebted to the store's owner, Doug Merello, who employed them over the course of several years.
The men said Merello always treated them with respect.
"He's a nice dude, he's helped us a lot," said a man identified himself as R.J. The 29-year-old R.J. said the group chased away several groups of teenagers who wanted to loot the store, but also nearly got into a brush with soldiers from the Missouri National Guard, who initially mistook them for looters.
The gas station's owner said the men definitely saved his store.
"We would have been burned to the ground many times over if it weren't for them," said Merello, whose father first bought the store in 1984.
While the black Ferguson residents defended the white-owned store, dozens of other businesses were not as lucky. Officials said more than a dozen businesses received "significant" damage as groups of rioters threw bricks, broke windows, and set fires.