Michael Crennell was too shy to ask for much from the world. Usually he was afraid to try for fear of failure, and he held onto the things he did have with the intensity of a child.

He had never been to college. He had kept the same job and the same low salary year after year. He was a balding man, a little overweight. His wife said he liked to sit in the grass with her on a summer's night and look at the stars and send her roses on her birthday.

What he wanted was a big house with a big yard and a fence all around and kids to be a father to. He had talked about becoming a policeman, but according to his wife, he never got the courage to apply. Being a security guard was the next best thing.

The job came with a uniform. When he put it on, it gave Crennell the sense of respect he had never been bold enough to ask for. He was wearing it when he was killed Tuesday night, shot to death during the robbery of a McDonald's restaurant he was guarding.

Crennell didn't usually work at the McDonald's on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in far Northeast; Tuesday night, he was filling in for another guard who was unable to get his car out of the snow. He was standing behind the counter with the other employes when three men burst into the store and ordered everyone to lie on the floor, police said.

Crennell never drew his gun, officers said. One of the men pointed a sawed-off shotgun at his face and fired.

Michael Crennell grew up an orphan. After his mother died, he was sent from England to live with relatives in Marlow Heights. He was never more than an average student, but friends said they were charmed by his devotion and the way he gave them presents. He could never say "no" to anyone and sometimes did the most outrageous favors for people who didn't care.

When Patricia Lowery met him he was working on the loading dock at Woodward & Lothrop in the Iverson Mall and living in a basement room. She was a teacher at Berkshire Elementary School in Suitland. He was making $100 a week.

On their first date, she recalled, they went to a movie in the mall. Afterward they went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. She thought it was a perfectly fine date. He couldn't stop stuttering long enough to order his meal.

Many weeks went by before he even tried to kiss her, she said. She was 28 and happy to be with someone who opened the door for her and helped her with her coat, even though his idea of a home-cooked meal was to open a can of tuna fish and a can of peas.

One day they were in the car and he got out and handed her a paper bag and walked away. Inside the paper bag was a little box. She opened it and found an engagement ring.

Crennell moved into the Lowery house after the engagement. Patricia Lowery's mother died of cancer and they agreed to postpone their marriage for a year. He gave her a big stuffed Winnie the Pooh doll at the wedding. They went to Florida on their honeymoon and visited Disney World. When they got back, Patricia said, they bought a two-bedroom townhouse near Forestville a few minutes from her father's home, and Crennell was proud to finally have a house of his own.

Two years ago, when he was 34, Crennell wanted a job that paid more money. He was hired as a security guard by Sting Security in Washington. His new salary was $3.50 an hour. When he added overtime, it was more than twice as much as he had ever made before.

The day he got the job he came home with his new uniform and went to the bedroom and put it on. When he came out he was smiling and he said to his wife, "I look good, don't I? Don't I look good?"

"You look like a sack of potatoes," she remembers joking. Afterwards he wore the uniform to his in-laws' house and always said the same thing: "Don't I look good?" He always had it dry cleaned and pressed because it made him look "sharp," and for Christmas his wife bought him a tie-tack in the shape of handcuffs. It made him "a symbol of law and order," she said.

"He looked into the mirror and saw people he had always looked up to, people he admired," said Patricia Crennell. "He had become all the things he ever admired."

Crennell never claimed to be smarter than anyone. "We don't hire college graduates here," said one Sting official. He always said "Yes, Sir" and "No, Ma'am," even to people who were younger. All of his performance ratings were "excellent."

The firm asked if he would carry a gun. Crennell didn't like guns. Patricia Crennell hated them. "We always thought it might put him in a situation where he might get killed, or where he might have to kill somebody else," she said. But it meant a promotion and an extra 50 cents an hour, and he agreed. In September he was made a sergeant. The Crennells started looking for a new house, and Crennell, his wife said, started looking for a less dangerous job.

His usual post as a guard was at the Suitland Parkway Overlook Apartments in Southeast Washington, but sometimes he took shifts at the McDonald's. Among the security guards who worked there Crennell stood out, said manager George Knights. He was never rude to customers. He helped clean the tables and collect the trays.

The store manager was nervous during the robbery, he said later, and couldn't open the safe. Crennell's body was lying on the floor. The men collected the money from the cash registers. Before they ran out, witnesses recalled, they asked the female employes for a kiss.

After the slaying, police stopped a car a few blocks away and arrested three men: Gaither Moore, 27, Michael Lee Corum, 25, and Robert Corum, 17, all of Southeast Washington. Later they charged all three with murdering Crennell.

"We were going to have everything we ever wanted and now it's gone, just like that," said Patricia Crennell. "Why did they have to kill him? Just because he was wearing a uniform? If they just killed him for the heck of it--well, then they're just sick.''