Search continues for smoke shop clerk accused of shooting at teen during dispute on Upper East Side

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Search continues for smoke shop employee accused of shooting at teen
Crystal Cranmore has more on the search.

UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Police are still searching for an employee of a smoke shop on the Upper East Side who is accused of opening fire at a 15-year-old during a dispute.

A group of at least six people entered Smile Smoke Shop at 1031 Third Ave. just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

An argument over their purchase started to escalate and two members of the group tried to jump over the counter. The 40-year-old employee pulled a gun and opened fire at the group, sending them fleeing toward the exit, police said.

Three members of the group loitered in the rear of the shop, prompting the worker to shoot again. That is when the 15-year-old was struck by a bullet fragment, suffering a graze wound to his left leg.

He ran away from the store and was later taken to the hospital. The bullet fragment was later recovered from his sock.

The teen has four prior arrests as a juvenile and has been uncooperative with detectives and immediately requested a lawyer.

The 40-year-old employee remained in the store following the shooting, called several people, including the store manager, telling them that he was the victim of an attempted robbery, that he fired a shot, and that no one was struck.

He put the gun in a backpack, closed store and walked away. Now the employee is currently being sought for questioning.

Officers arrived at the store following the shooting and were approached by the manager, who gave them access to the store's surveillance system.

Despite the workers' statements, the incident is being investigated as a dispute, not a robbery, and the 15-year-old who was injured does not appear to be one of the two customers who attempted to jump the counter.

The shooting comes as the United Bodegas of America revealed it has been quietly helping its members and other small business owners apply for concealed carry permits so they can arm themselves with guns. The organization says it is necessary due to the crime.

"I want every criminal to believe and know that any bodega that they walk into, that owner could be armed and ready to, you know, fight fire with fire," said United Bodegas of America spokesman Fernando Mateo.

Mateo said all business owners who apply for a gun license are trained to deescalate, but the store employees have a right to defend themselves.

NYPD statistics show robberies are down 5% this year compared to this time last year.

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