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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nashua gas station clerk halts robbery with handgun, gets fired hours later; police still looking for suspect

NASHUA – When Shannon “Bear” Cothran was threatened by a knife-wielding robber on Monday morning, he didn’t think twice about what to do.

Cothran, who was working after midnight at the Shell gas station at 301 Main St. in Nashua, pulled out his Ruger LCP .380 handgun. ...

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NASHUA – When Shannon “Bear” Cothran was threatened by a knife-wielding robber on Monday morning, he didn’t think twice about what to do.

Cothran, who was working after midnight at the Shell gas station at 301 Main St. in Nashua, pulled out his Ruger LCP .380 handgun.

The robber turned and walked out the door, and Cothran called the police, bringing a swift end to the robbery attempt.

Cothran believes his decision to carry a firearm might have saved his life Monday morning. But the owners of the gas station took a different view.

Cothran says he was fired only a few hours later for violating a company policy that forbids store clerks from carrying guns.

Now out of a job, Cothran said he feels the company policy is irresponsible. But with a grandson on the way, he stands by his decision to carry a firearm for protection.

“I can find another job,” he said. “A paycheck’s a paycheck. I don’t really care where it comes from. I cannot justify in my mind trying to save my job at the risk of not ever seeing my family and friends again.”

After the incident, Cothran was asked to file a report with his employer, Nouria Energy, which owns and operates the gas station. He said the store manager and a district manager lobbied to save his job, but Cothran was terminated only a few hours later.

Multiple calls and emails to Nouria Energy were not returned Tuesday. Attempts to reach officials at oil giant Shell also were unsuccessful.

Nashua police are still searching for the man involved in the Monday morning robbery. The suspect was caught on surveillance video entering the gas station around 3 a.m.

Police confirmed that the man approached the clerk and brandished a knife, but fled moments later when the clerk produced a firearm.

Cothran, 29, said he had just finished helping another customer when the would-be robber entered the store, walked behind the counter and threatened his life.

“He had the knife cocked back. It looked like he was going to stab me,” Cothran said. “I took several steps back, produced my sidearm, and informed him it was a bad idea and he didn’t want to do it, and he left.”

Nashua police are asking the public for help identifying the man, who was described as a white or Hispanic male, between 6 feet and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, with a medium build.

Police are circulating an image of the suspect. They also recovered a piece of evidence – a black-and-gray Coleman jacket with a red collar, which the suspect discarded while he was running from the scene.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Nashua police Criminal Investigation Division at 594-3500 or the Nashua Crimeline at 589-1665.

Authorities in Nashua and Manchester have been combatting a surge in armed robberies since summer. In the Gate City alone, Cumberland Farms, Jeannotte’s Market, the Subway restaurant on Main Street and 7-Eleven have been among the targets.

The uptick in crime prompted Nashua city officials to call for a community meeting with the police department earlier this year.

It also left some store clerks with the uneasy feeling that they could be the next victim of an armed holdup. At Nellie’s Mart and Deli, owner Enrique Marrero recently changed his closing time from 10:30 to 8 p.m.

“It’s kind of dangerous late at night, so I thought about it and figured 8 is a good time to close,” Marrero told The Telegraph in August.

Cothran, a New Hampshire native, has never shied away from dangerous occupations. He previously worked as a bouncer and has been employed at Nouria Energy’s convenience stores for 10 years, starting at the Shell station on Main Dunstable Road, then moving to the Shell station on Main Street.

Although he owns firearms, Cothran does not describe himself as an avid collector. He has been licensed to carry a concealed weapon since age 21 and has kept a compact handgun by his side for about two years.

Cothran has been impressed by the performance of Nashua police, but the recent uptick in crime reinforced his belief that a weapon is necessary for his personal safety.

“When you’re dealing in seconds, not minutes or hours, you can’t be dependent on anyone else to take care of you,” he said. “You have to be responsible for yourself.”

Nashua police Lt. Denis Linehan said there are pros and cons when employees who might be the victims of crime choose to arm themselves. If a robber is also carrying a firearm, the situation can potentially escalate into a shooting.

In the case of Monday morning’s robbery, Linehan said it appears the clerk took appropriate action when he was threatened. He said police encourage anyone who carries a firearm to undergo safety training.

“The first thing that we want to make sure is that people are safe,” he said. “In this situation, the clerk was presented with a deadly weapon. He was in close proximity to the suspect when the deadly weapon was displayed to him. The clerk, from the information I have, took the appropriate action in terms of how he felt threatened, in presenting the firearm.”

Now unemployed, Cothran isn’t sure where his job search will begin. He’s contemplating going into business with friends.

Cothran’s marriage is set to become final at the beginning of November – an occasion that he said will probably marked with a barbecue at home in Milford. Cothran said his fiancee also is expecting the birth of a grandson in December.

Given the importance of family in his own life, Cothran encouraged the man who held up the Shell station this week to consider how fortunate the outcome was. Neither man was injured, and the robbery suspect won’t have to live with a violent crime on his conscience.

“If he has family, I really hope that he looks at his reasons for doing what he did and makes a wise decision about what’s more important – his family or his course of action,” Cothran said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).