A wild but brief gun battle erupted Friday morning on Broad River Road outside Columbia after an armed man attempted to rob a video game players’ store and the owner decided to fight back, police said.
The robber walked into Gamerz, at 2700 Broad River Road in St. Andrews, and tried to rob a half dozen patrons of their wallets and money around 10 a.m. Friday.
The owner, who has not been identified by police, then pulled out his own gun and shot at the robber, who fled into the parking lot, spilling money he had just stolen, according to public information officer Sgt. Brittany Scott with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
The robber was struck “multiple times” but managed to fire back at the owner, Scott said.
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Neither the owner nor any of the six customers was hit during the flurry of gunfire.
“The suspect had his handgun out and was demanding money,” Scott said. “The owner also had a handgun.”
The shooting was the second such incident this year in the Columbia area. In January, the owner of a Fort Jackson Boulevard barber shop shot an armed man who was robbing his customers one by one.
At Gamerz, after trading shots with the owner, the robber jumped into a black Nissan Altima and was driven away by two accomplices while returning fire, Scott said.
Deputies arrested him an hour later in a nearby neighborhood where he had been left by his comrades. Scott said he was shot mostly in the upper body.
Gamerz is a store where people go to play Xbox and other video games. It is one of about 10 businesses, including a telephone wireless store, a Chinese restaurant and a pawn shop, in a small shopping center alongside the busy Broad River Road corridor.
On its Facebook page, Gamerz describes itself as “the only interactive video game store that caters to all ages and types of games. We buy, sell, trade games and have tournaments and league” play.
The glass front door of Gamerz was shattered by the gunfire. Piles of broken glass lay on the sidewalk, and a half-dozen bullet casings littered the parking lot outside Gamerz.
The alleged robber and his accomplices drove about two miles west, and stopped at the corner of Alcunbury Drive off Newnham Drive, where a citizen notified law enforcement, who apprehended them, Scott said.
“The suspect was out there bleeding, and the black Nissan was in someone’s driveway,” Scott said.
The wounded suspect was transported to Palmetto Health Richland hospital for his injuries. He is in stable condition, Scott said Friday afternoon.
Geno Furarra, 30, manager of Cricket Wireless, was doing paperwork just a few stores away from Gamerz when he heard loud noises outside.
“At first I thought it was just construction pounding,” Furarra said. “I didn’t realize it was shooting. But then it got intense – boom! boom! boom! – and I realized it was gunshots. So I went outside.”
There, he saw several men – customers of Gamerz – picking up money in the parking lot as well as Gamerz’ owner. He was unhurt but seemed a little tense, as he would be natural after a gunfight, Furarra said.
The owner is a good man with a fine family, Furarra said. “He’s a very nice dude. I don’t blame him. If I was the owner of a business like him, I would do the same thing.”
A second suspect was detained by deputies, while the third fled on foot and was being hunted by deputies Friday afternoon.
Scott said deputies are still working the case and that investigators also will be looking to see if the Gamerz owner acted lawfully. “We want to make sure his shots were justifiable and that he was in the right to do so,” Scott said.
Such checking is normal when police investigate a shooting. For one thing, if there is a trial, the owner will be a likely key witness and prosecutors need to be sure the circumstances they present to a jury can withstand scrutiny by a defense lawyer.
Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling said Friday that the law allows people to have weapons in their homes, businesses and cars. Generally speaking, it is lawful for a person to have a gun to protect themselves and others for self-defense reasons – and also to prevent the commission of a crime – if the person is in one of those locales, Swerling said.
According to Richland County sheriff’s department records, Gamerz was robbed last June by three men, one of them armed with a pistol.
The robbers came into Gamerz, knocked one person to the floor, and stole money and cell phones from the owner and two customers. The robbers then ran out and jumped into a waiting car, the report said.
In January, a robber holding up a barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard near the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods was shot and killed by the barber and one of his customers.
Elmurray “Billy” Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.
“The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering,” Bookman said the next day. “I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers.”
Minutes later, Bookman and one of his 20 customers in the shop drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run.
The second robber in that case is still at large, Columbia police said Friday.