As a 16-year-old Taco Bell employee, Shan Dan Horan wasn’t expecting to find a gun to his head while he closed up shop.

But that’s what happened in December 2001, when a robber in a paintball mask and black gloves cut the restaurant’s phone lines while pointing a gun at him and ordering other employees not to watch. At the same time, an accomplice demanded money from a worker near the restaurant’s safe, according to an Arizona Daily Sun article.

“If you move, I’ll kill you,” the first robber told employees.

Nineteen years after the robbers fled the Flagstaff, Ariz., restaurant with cash, Horan decided to visit another Taco Bell location on Monday for a taste of irony — and then spontaneously gifted $100 to each of the five employees on site in gratitude for their work.

This type of act of kindness, while fairly common, tends to increase during high-profile crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, research shows. From a chain of 900 strangers buying each others’ ice cream to a formerly homeless man giving away 2,500 Thanksgiving feasts, people across the country have sought ways to make 2020 a little less painful.

For his part, Horan said he would always remember not just being robbed two decades ago, but also the sacrifices of his service-industry colleagues.

“So today I thought I would drop a different type of lettuce off to the employees at my neighborhood Taco Bell to thank them for feeding us all during this pandemic,” Horan, who now works in the music industry, wrote about his trip to the restaurant in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood.

While Horan wrote that his gesture came on the robbery’s 20th anniversary, the Daily Sun article indicates the crime happened in 2001. The number of years seems to be beyond the point for Horan, who said the robbery represented one of the scariest moments of his life and came while he was trying to save money for college and to buy his family Christmas gifts.

Dec. 14 has been circled on his calendar every year since, he told local television station KOVR. Horan, who didn’t respond to a message from The Washington Post, said he calls it his “life day,” in recognition of how close he came to losing his life.

His trip to a Taco Bell on Monday was initially meant to be just a darkly humorous lunch option. But after placing an order for nachos and Tacos Supreme, Horan told KXTV, he started recounting the robbery to the restaurant employees and decided to drop five $100 bills on the counter for them.

The money came with a warm directive: Don’t work too hard, and make sure to enjoy time with your family and friends.

“It’s more so a message of I appreciate what they’re doing, especially in a pandemic where most of us are locked down,” Horan told KXTV. “We don’t appreciate people in the service in the industry as much as we should.”

While representatives of Taco Bell did not respond to an email from The Post, an employee who received the gift told KOVR that he planned to put the funds toward car repairs. Some of his colleagues would probably use it to care for their children, he said.

“Now I feel like I got to do the same thing when I get in a better position,” said the employee, Jordin Hines, according to KOVR. “So it’s definitely spreading the holiday spirit.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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