The deadly incident unfolded at the Craft Beer Lotto Cigar store just after 6 p.m. on Cross Bay Boulevard in South Ozone Park.
Police say a 63-year-old homeless man, identified as Steven Cohen, entered the store and started to argue with 26-year-old store employee Mohmediyan Tarwala and was asked to leave.
The two store employees then pushed the suspect out of the store when he started acting unruly, according to authorities.
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Cohen left and went across the street to a beer shop and asked a worker, Chris Hanlon, for help and to call 911. Hanlon, who had no idea the man had been kicked out of the convenience store, said Cohen didn't look good.
"He looked like he was in the middle of a medical emergency, like a stroke," he said. "I called and turned around, and he walked off."
Authorities say Cohen returned to the store and shot Tarwala once in the stomach. Police say he also fired at the second employee, a 32-year-old, who was not hit.
An off-duty officer, Jason Maharaj, was in the store at the time and saw the incident. He tackled Cohen, disarmed him, and held him until police arrived and took him into custody.
"He sees the individual with a gun, makes a tactical decision, tackles the individual, gets the gun, holds him for responding police officers," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said.
Nothing short of Heroic.— Commissioner Shea (@NYPDShea) October 27, 2020
The moment after a man shot & killed a deli worker, off-duty NYPD Officer Maharaj, with out regard for his own safety, tackled the shooter, disarmed him & held him for responding cops. pic.twitter.com/PQBmg4bKiB
Tarwala, known as Iyan to his friends, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.
"He was a really nice guy, always polite," customer Isah Mohamed said. "Every time I came in here to buy something, he always hooks me up, treats me nice, all the customers."
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Charges against Cohen are pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation. Witnesses say he had been living in a blue minivan that was parked behind the convenience store.
One man who didn't want to be identified said he had called police several times to complain.
"I called because he was urinating in public, throwing garbage," he said. "And they came and talked with him, but he remained there."
Cohen's prior arrests include a 2000 robbery where he pushed his victim through the front window of a Waldbaum's supermarket and a 1982 assault, when he hit someone across the back with a chain. Both occurred in that Queens precinct.
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