— KOMO News (@komonews) March 29, 2016
When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Pacific Quickmart in Spanaway, Wash., on Friday night, they found a dead body in the doorway.
The explanation for the gruesome scene seemed simple, at least at first.
Min Sik Kim, the convenience store clerk, told deputies he had caught someone stealing cigarettes. When the would-be thief knocked him to the ground and tried to grab his gun, Kim had no choice but to defend himself, he said.
“I pulled my gun out and I shot him a couple of times,” Kim told local television station Q13. “I would do this again if I have to keep my life.”
Deputies drove off, leaving Kim free to tell his gripping story of survival to local media.
On Monday afternoon, however, those deputies returned.
They had reviewed surveillance footage of the incident and found a much different picture than the one painted by Kim.
Just hours after Kim talked to Q13, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office arrested the 30-year-old store clerk on suspicion of murder, according to Q13 and KOMO News.
The incident in the Tacoma suburb is the latest in a string of controversial shootings by concealed weapon owners.
Earlier this month, for instance, a customer at another convenience store just 35 miles away was hailed as a hero after using his concealed pistol to kill a hatchet-wielding attacker.
Initially, the Spanaway shooting seemed remarkably similar. But then deputies reviewed the surveillance video and determined that the alleged shoplifter, identified as 21-year-old Jakeel Mason, posed no threat and was fleeing when shot.
In many ways, Friday’s shooting captures the crux of the debate over concealed weapons: Do they save lives, as Kim claimed, or do they simply create more crime?
Or is the reality somewhere in between?
Adding to the difficulty of the question is the issue of a shooter’s perception, which is bound up in past experience.
In the case of Kim, the Spanaway convenience store clerk, that past experience was horrific.
The Medical Examiner is here. One person dead in shooting at Pacific Quickmart in Spanaway. Police investigating. pic.twitter.com/9hYuPz1I1O
— Doug Dillon (@dougdKING5) March 26, 2016
Five weeks before Friday’s shooting, Kim’s wife was shot during another robbery at the same store.
Seul Lim was working the Quickmart counter on Feb. 18 when a masked man walked in pointing a gun and demanding money. Lim began to take cash out of the drawer. But when the robber had his head turned, she pulled a pistol out of its holster and fired at the man’s head.
Her bullet narrowly missed. His did not, striking her in the stomach.
Moments later, another customer walked into the store.
“She was just holding her stomach and saying, ‘No, we’re closed, we’re closed,'” the customer, Stephanie Glander, told KOMO News. “And literally three seconds after that the cops pulled into the parking and came in.”
The alleged robber fled but was quickly arrested along with his female partner. Authorities identified him as Tyrone Prophet Jr. and said he is suspected in a string of robberies in the region. A detective told KUTV that Prophet was homeless and robbing stores to feed his partner and their child.
Lim survived the shooting.
“She’s tough,” Kim told KUTV. “She’s a tough cookie, yeah.”
“I’m glad she’s fine and I’m glad they caught the guy who shot her,” he told Q13 shortly after the February shootout. “I hope the law is going to do their job.”
“I’m so very angry right now, you know? No shooting! No shooting!” Lim’s father told local media after the shooting. “Hey young guys, you need money, you work, work.”
Convenience store clerk Seul Lim and husband Min Kim. She survived shooting in Spanaway. Video of shootout at 5 pic.twitter.com/rHWFt1c47P
— Kevin McCarty (@KevinKIRO7) February 19, 2016
Kim said he was haunted by his wife’s near-death experience.
“I still can’t get over that,” he said. “I should have been here, you know? So she could have not got shot.”
Five weeks later, it was Kim behind the counter when Mason walked in and allegedly tried to steal cigarettes.
When Kim confronted the would-be shoplifter, the clerk was knocked to the ground, he told Q13.
“He was keep reaching for my gun and I was really afraid,” Kim said.
Interviewed shortly before his arrest, the clerk said he had no regrets.
“If I have to defend my life [again], I would make the same decision,” he said.
That calculus may change now that Kim is behind bars.
After watching surveillance footage, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office decided the shooting was not an act of self-defense but rather an act of murder.
“The struggle that we see on the video is the store clerk punching the suspect and when the suspect goes to leave the store, we have video of the store clerk firing rounds at him,” Detective Ed Troyer told Q13.
— Alison Grande (@AlisonKIRO7) March 28, 2016
Troyer added that even a traumatic experience doesn’t excuse someone from taking the law into their own hands and killing someone when not threatened.
“We know that just the previous month that his wife was shot at in a robbery, we understand that,” Troyer said. “That probably leads to high emotions and people carrying weapons, but if you’re going to carry weapons you have to have the responsibility of carrying that weapon. We can’t have o turn into homicides.”
Adding to the complexity of the case is the fact that Mason, the would-be shoplifter, had a criminal history. According to authorities, he had pleaded guilty after trying to abduct a 6-year-old Tacoma girl in 2014, and also pleaded guilty to attempted burglary.
Kim will appear in court Tuesday, when he is expected to be formally charged, according to Q13.
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