Convenience store dead: 2 employees, wholesaler and possibly a gunman
Friends of the fatally shot employees of the The Connect variety store gather near the store near the Altgeld Gardens housing complex on the Chicago's Far South Side. Police were reviewing surveillance video and questioning several people about a wild shoot-out inside the store that left four people dead and two others wounded. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / November 4, 2011)
But after he brought a supply of cellular phones and accessories to The Connect, a convenience store on Chicago's Far South Side, several gunmen burst in, spraying bullets about the business. When the shooting stopped, six people had been shot, four fatally, police said. A customer was among those wounded.
Besides Arafeh, a security guard who had worked at the store for just a few weeks and a second employee were killed. The fourth fatal victim was possibly one of the gunmen, police said. At least one store employee had returned fire when the gunmen came storming in, police said.
On Thursday, Arafeh's family and friends gathered at his Lansing home to grieve the death of the 46-year-old who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He just never came home yesterday," said Arafeh's son Zaid. "I just hope he didn't go away painfully."
Police were reviewing surveillance video from inside the store in the 500 block of East 130th Street and questioning several people, including at least two teens.
Police are looking into whether the shooting about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday was sparked by a dispute over stolen merchandise that was sold to the store, sources said.
Arafeh and two others — Michael Banks, 30, the store security guard, and Weam Salem, 25, the other store employee — were pronounced dead at the scene. The suspected gunman, a 17-year-old, was dead on arrival at Roseland Community Hospital, authorities said.
The Cook County medical examiner's office identified the teen as Alex Spikes of the 11300 block of South Hermosa Avenue.
Among the two individuals who were wounded was Reica Jackson, 39, a customer who said she believes it was her first time in the store. She was shot in the thighs as she stood at the counter to buy pop.
In a telephone interview Thursday evening from her bed at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Jackson said she was able to get up on her own power after she was shot. She recalled seeing shattered glass about the store but didn't get a look at any of the shooters.
"It just happened so fast. I didn't know it was shots," Jackson said. "I realized what happened afterward."
Banks had just started working security at the shop about a month ago, according to his sister Marcy Banks.
"In that small little store, they never had a chance," she said of her brother and the other victims as she struggled to keep her composure during a phone interview.
Banks often worked 12-hour shifts at the store, commuting from the home he shared in Hobart, Ind., with his fiancee and four children, all younger than 12, his sister said. She described her brother as "the life of the party," a playful, protective person who was always joking with relatives.
Area residents expressed shock Thursday over the brutal crime. Many said they took their children to buy candy at The Connect, located near the Altgeld Gardens public housing development.
One neighbor, Choley Butler, called it "a convenience store for us — so we don't have to take the bus out of the neighborhood."
Zaid Arafeh said his father was a hard worker who owned the Cellular Group, a wholesaler. He frequently worked late and often liked to make deliveries to keep in touch with local store owners — sometimes chatting for an hour over a cup of coffee.
But The Connect was not that kind of stop, Arafeh's son said. His deliveries there lasted 10 to 15 minutes, tops, the 19-year-old said. He remembered visiting the store with his father while riding along on his route.
"Usually he'd get out and lock the door and tell me to stay in the car," Arafeh said of the visits. A couple of times, the son came inside too. Now the memory of the small store haunts him as he pictures the deadly shooting that took his father's life.
"It's a really, really small store. It's a tight place," Arafeh said. "It was just a massacre inside that store."
Less than 24 hours after his father's death, the younger Arafeh, 19, struggled to hold back tears as he realized that as the eldest male in the family, it was his responsibility to be strong for his grieving mother.
"I was really weak about this, but I'm getting stronger because that's what my dad would want me to do," Arafeh said. "That's how he was. I want to be like him."