80-year-old California store owner who shot suspected armed robber gets awarded

Johnny Falco, a burly, bearded 61-year-old man wearing a ball cap, approached the counter at Norco Market where 80-year-old store owner Craig Cope was serving customers.

Falco would say he doesn’t cry easily, but he did just that as he placed a box of shotgun shells — a gift for Cope — on the counter.

“Craig is the only person who Dad said is his hero,” said Falco, who then turned and spoke to Cope.

“On behalf of Norco and my friends, thank you.”

When Nuncio Falco, 91, learned that Cope shot a would-be robber on July 31 who shouted four times what’s now an immortal line in town — “He shot my arm off!” — the elder Falco wanted to give Cope a gift. But Falco died on Aug. 9, before he could present one.

Johnny Falco said he was touched that Cope attended his father’s funeral. So on Wednesday, Aug. 31, as a few dozen people gathered at the market on Sixth Street to celebrate Cope, Falco also gave him a framed photo from the funeral’s reception, of a posing Cope with others.

T-shirts and sweatshirts that read “Don’t Mess With Norco — We’ll Shoot Your Arm Off” have sold briskly — Falco wore one Wednesday. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, who called Cope to praise him for protecting himself, bought a shirt, too. He posed for a photo with his wife, Denise, while wearing the Norco T-shirt and posted it to his Instagram page.

Christy Dunn, who sold the shirts, presented Cope with a check for $5,061 — half of the profits from the shirts — to assist with the medical bills he incurred after suffering a heart attack following the shooting.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Cope said. “It’s kind of amazing to me.”

Cope had placed a shotgun behind his counter. He had been robbed before. He has owned the market twice, with his second purchase about eight years ago.

On the morning of July 31, Cope kept the market open beyond the normal 2 a.m. closing time. He was doing paperwork anyway.

At about 2:47 a.m., he noticed a BMW SUV pull up to the side of the market and back into a parking stall. Suspicious, Cope saw on the live surveillance video that there were four people in the car and that they had masks, gloves and guns. He inched closer to his shotgun.

Two people entered, one carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle, who pointed it at Cope, the District Attorney’s Office said.

When he was a child, Cope hunted squirrel, quail and rabbit to put food on the table of his Illinois home. He never served in law enforcement or the military and didn’t practice with his shotgun. But Cope, who has a handshake that’s firm for a person of any age, was confident.

“He pointed the gun directly at me,” Cope said. “It took me half a second to react. It was him or me.”

One shot.

“He shot my arm off!” one apparent robber is heard saying on surveillance video.

The suspected robbers ran out of the store and climbed into the SUV and sped off.

News of the robbery spread quickly throughout Norco. Dunn, involved in many community activities with her company that sells printed T-shirts and sweatshirts, immediately saw an opportunity. A friend suggested the slogan that wound up on the shirt.

“I think she was thinking funny, kidding, but I’m like, ‘Boom!’ ” Dunn said. “Not to make fun of (the wounded robber), but I thought it was a line that was classic.”

Cope didn’t actually shoot the man’s arm off, but the wound was serious enough that his accomplices took him to Placentia-Linda Hospital in Placentia, the District Attorney’s Office said. There, Davon Anthony Broadus, 24, of Inglewood, Justin Kyle Johnson, 22, of Inglewood, and Jamar Elijah Williams, 26, of Las Vegas, were arrested as they sat outside in the SUV, the Sheriff’s Department said. Rasheed DaShawn Lee Belvin, 23, of South Los Angeles, was treated for the wound and later released into custody.

All four, who remained in custody on Friday, have pleaded not guilty to charges that include attempted robbery, possession of a stolen firearm and elder abuse.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Not in Norco, self-proclaimed “Horsetown, USA,” a city of 27,000 residents where Dunn often wears a shirt that says, “God, family, guns and freedom.”

Dunn, 55, graduated from Norco High, as did her four children.

“When I was growing up, we had two cops,” she said. “They didn’t have anything to do. Everyone said there’s no crime in Norco because everyone has a gun.

“Then to start to see more crime coming in — I think our town has a pride … protect yourself, and I feel like Norco stands on the side of let the good guy beat the bad guy,” Dunn added. “Norco looks out for one another. They don’t want to see crime in their town. They want to see that our seniors are safe.”

Russ Whalen, 64, has lived in the city for 22 years. He is retired after a career in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. He arrived at the market on Wednesday wearing the “Don’t Mess with Norco” shirt and a cap that says, “2nd Amendment God and Guns.”

“It’s more than just Norco,” Whalen figured. “It’s about people defending their rights, the right to defend themselves. We’ve seen the crime go through the roof in L.A. County and people are unprotected. It’s devastating people, and now it’s coming here … and now somebody protects himself, which is his Second Amendment right, and scares would-be robbers away.”

In an interview, Bianco said he praised Cope for paying attention to the surveillance video and to his surroundings, and that “he did the right thing.”

“There is an unbelievable trend in these people doing these crimes, and he protected himself exactly like he should have, and I think it’s very commendable, because a lot of people aren’t protecting themselves,” Bianco said.

The sheriff urges anyone who purchases a firearm for protection to practice with it and be mentally prepared to use it, as Cope was.

“They’d stop if they all got shot,” Bianco said, a thought echoed by Cope.

“Maybe the good aspect is it will discourage anybody else from coming here or going any place else to do this,” the market’s owner said.

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