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NASHUA — A store clerk who aimed a handgun at a knife-wielding robber early Monday morning and was later terminated for his actions did the correct thing, according to police.
"From the information I have, the store clerk acted appropriately the other night when a man with a deadly weapon was within close proximity. He feared for his life and he took appropriate action," Lt. Denis Linehan said of Shannon "Bear" Cothran who was working at the Shell gas station, 301 Main St., at the time of the attempted robbery.
Cothran may have violated a company policy that prohibits workers from carrying firearms on the job, but police said he acted appropriately and was not harmed in the incident.
The robber, who police are still trying to identify, walked into the store about 3 a.m. on Monday, brandished a knife and demanded money. The store clerk, who was carrying a concealed handgun, then retrieved the weapon and aimed it at the robber, according to police. The weapon was not fired, and no one was injured before the robber fled the scene.
Typically, Linehan said police do not encourage individuals to arm themselves in these types of situations. Police officers undergo hours of training where they are faced with shoot or don't shoot scenarios, explained Linehan.
"This clerk was licensed to carry, but that does not necessarily mean that he has gone through training," said Linehan. "We are glad he is safe, but we do not encourage people to carry."
Cothran said Tuesday that despite being fired, he doesn't regret his actions, and would do it again in a heartbeat.
"The only thing that crossed my mind was coming home to my family," he said. "Desperate people do desperate things."
Cothran said he feared for his life when the masked robber brandished a knife and threatened him.
"As far as preventing these convenience store robberies in Nashua, I really think that the responsibility is not just on the police, it is on the people. If people are willing to be victims, people will victimize them."
Cothran said he was not going to be the victim early Monday morning, even though he knew he would lose his job in the process.
"Honestly, as soon as he produced his weapon, I produced my own," he said. "I knew that I was going to lose my job as soon as I made the decision to violate company policy by carrying a weapon. This was a foregone conclusion. I was not surprised in the least when I was let go."
Corporate management at Nouria Energy, based out of Worcester, Mass., notified Cothran just hours after the attempted robbery that he was now unemployed, according to Cothran.
Officials at Nouria Energy did not return phone calls from The New Hampshire Union Leader seeking comment.
Cothran, who has worked at the downtown Shell gas station for about a decade, said he signed the employee handbook when he was first hired that included a clause prohibiting workers from carrying weapons while on duty.
However, Cothran said he has been carrying a concealed handgun since he obtained a permit about eight years ago. He doesn't blame the company for having the policy, maintaining that many corporate entities have similar policies.
Still, he said it doesn't change the rash of armed robberies that continue to take place at the city's convenience stores, markets and gas stations.
"I don't really believe that the acts of convenience store robberies are specifically the problem — it is systematic. The problem is cultural and economic," according to Cothran. "Over the last however many years, nationwide and in Nashua specifically as a growing community, there are drug issues, which I think often times fuels this type of crime."
For Cothran, Monday's attempted robbery was not just about him — it was about his family.
"This isn't the wild west. This isn't the movies and this isn't television. This is real life with real consequences," he said. "This was a choice. I could choose to be a victim, or I could choose not to be a victim."
He commended the Nashua Police Department for responding almost instantly to the attempted robbery, saying police could not have arrived any sooner unless they were actually parked in the gas station parking lot.
Lee J. Lavallee, Cothran's fiancee, posted a message about the incident on Facebook, stressing that she supports her partner's decision to display the gun during the attempted robbery.
"I would much rather be a wife of an unemployed, ethical, loyal, hardworking man than to be a widow of someone who simply followed company policy," she wrote, adding Cothran knew the risks of breaking corporate policy.
"Every time we brought up the subject, we both agreed that his life was far more important than the job," she wrote.
Monday's attempted robbery is one of about 30 armed robberies that have taken place throughout the city this year.
"We are actively working these cases daily," Linehan said Tuesday, reminding the public that cash rewards are available to the public for providing successful tips about city crimes.
Police released a brief news release about the attempted robbery at the gas station, but excluded information about the store clerk brandishing a gun at the knife-wielding robber.
"We don't release every bit of information," said Linehan, explaining some details are kept confidential to protect the integrity of the case. However, after learning the store clerk was terminated from his employment, Linehan said he understands the situation may be more newsworthy.
"It puts us in a very tough situation," added Linehan.
Local residents had mixed reactions about Cothran's termination on Tuesday, as word about his firing went viral.
"Their decision to fire him should be reconsidered if they wish to have our business," Steve Coombes of Nashua posted on Facebook. "I've already written the company a letter indicating my intent to boycott them until Bear is rehired and their policy is modified to offer at least some leniency."
Others, including Bonnie Lee Newell of Nashua, said while it is unfortunate the store clerk lost his job, the policy still stands.
"If he wasn't permitted to have or show a gun in the store, the rules must be enforced. This isn't a gun debate, it's a policy violation that unfortunately involved a firearm," she posted.
The attempted robber is described as a white or Hispanic male, about 6 feet or 6 feet 2 inches, with a medium build. He was wearing a dark ski-mask, dark pants, gloves and a two-tone gray Coleman jacket with a red collar.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 603-594-3500, or the anonymous crimeline at 603-589-1665.
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