Temia Hairston’s last conversation with her son was not an easy one. Michael Grace Jr. had been fired from a series of low-paying, unskilled jobs. He had a 4-year-old child and a pregnant girlfriend. Essentially homeless, the 28-year-old was not in a position to take care of anyone, even himself.

His mother didn’t know what he needed more — a motivational speech or tough love.

“He had lost everything. He lost his Pizza Hut job. He lost his primary job. And because he lost his jobs, he lost his car also,” Hairston, of Charlotte, told The Washington Post. “We were talking about baby Michael and I was like, ‘you got to get it together because [the child’s mother] is having to take care of him by herself because you’re not working. I need you to get yourself together and get back on your grind.’ ”

Hairston said she wasn’t sure if her words sunk in. “He was nodding,” she said of the Oct. 29 conversation, “but he had a look on his face like he had nothing left to lose.”

A few hours after the talk, Grace laced up a pair of Air Jordans, put on a mask and went to the west Charlotte Pizza Hut where he used to work, armed with a gun. Police say he and two men waited until the business was closed, then burst into the restaurant.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say what happened next is still under investigation:

“Three individuals . . . were in the process of robbing the business when one of the employees fired his own personal handgun at one of the robbery suspects, striking him,” the police statement said.

Grace was shot in the head and died on the floor in the early morning of Oct. 30, his mother said. Police say the gun fell from his hand and was recovered next to his body.

Now Hairston said she wants justice for her son, whose final act was one of “desperation.” She wants the Pizza Hut employee who killed him to be charged with a crime.

“My son was out doing something wrong … I don’t condone his actions, but he didn’t deserve to die,” she said Monday, while crying. “If you decide to rob someone, then you face a judge.

“If prison was where he was going, then prison is where he should be instead of in the ground.”

Police have not charged the person who shot Grace or released his identity.

North Carolina law allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense or defense of another. A person is “justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat in any place” if that force is used to prevent death or bodily harm to himself or another.

Still, Pizza Hut employees aren’t allowed to carry guns on company property, according to an employee manual posted online. Their first priority during a crime is to contact the police, according to the manual.

“If you observe a weapon on an individual, other than a uniformed police officer, push the security panic button immediately,” the handbook says. Pizza Hut officials did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Fast-food workers who have killed robbers in North Carolina have been charged in the past.

In 2007, Donte McFadden walked into a west Charlotte McDonald’s, tapped a gun on the counter and demanded cash, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer. Police say it was part of a scheme he concocted with his cousin — the restaurant’s manager.

McFadden was shot and killed by a McDonald’s worker, Tiemeyer Neshawn Sanders, who was a felon. Sanders was making burgers in the back when the robber walked into the location. He pulled out his own gun and fatally shot McFadden. Later, police charged him with possession of a firearm by a felon.

In the statement about Grace’s killing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said the Pizza Hut franchisee was cooperating with the investigation.

“The security of its staff is of [utmost] concern,” the statement said. “They are providing support to the team members involved to ensure their health and well-being following this incident. The employee involved in the shooting has been placed on a leave of absence following further review.”

Hairston said she’s going to continue to push the company and the police for more details about her son’s death.

But first she has to travel to California, where her son was born and where he will be buried.

“This is one big, ongoing nightmare,” she said.

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