LUMBERTON — A Lumberton businessman says a fleeting thought of his mother probably saved the life of a teenage intruder early Friday as he made a decision to shoot to hurt, not kill.
G.H. Smith, 66, was working about 3 a.m. in the back of his cell phone business on North Pine Street when he heard a loud crash. The noise was made by as many as five people breaking into his store.
“I shouted at them ‘Hey. What y’all doing?’” Smith said. “The other two jumped out the window, but the other guy started this way. It was dark and there was only this night light on … I hollered at him. I thought he had a gun because he was so bold. He was bad. That’s when I thought I’d better stop him right now.”
Smith made a conscious decision to aim his shotgun at the man’s legs.
“And I wasn’t trying to kill him,” Smith said. “You see that Bible right there, that’s my mother’s. Y’know my mother comes in about every day and she’s 84. I think if I’d of taken his head off she wouldn’t have come back anymore. She doesn’t need that extra stress on her. That’s the only thing that saved him, I think. It was a scary situation.”
Police cannot release the name of the injured individual because he is a juvenile, Lumberton police Capt. Terry Parker said. The preliminary investigation is underway, but police must wait until the youth has been treated before they can take a statement. No information on the juvenile’s condition was available.
Smith was told that the boy was 15 years old. Smith said he had no way of knowing the intruder was so young.
“They had bandanas around the lower part of their face and bandanas on their head,” Smith said.
Glass display cases and cabinets inside the business were destroyed using stones. Store employees were conducting an inventory late Friday morning, but it is believed about 15 cell phones were stolen.
Smith said the business, Page Talk Communications, likely will become a 24-hour operation in order to have employees on site all the time.
Smith has been selling, repairing and working with cell phones in Lumberton since 1994. Smith employs four people, and his mother helps out in the store three days a week. Before having his own business, Smith was in sales for Sears and JC Penney.
At lunchtime Friday, friends and employees discussed what they would do about the blood stain on the floor. The somber mood was in stark contrast to how the intruders acted as they targeted the store.
“They were laughing and joking. One would smash, hit it (the window) and then another would push in and say ‘let me at it,’” Smith said. “You would think they would be nervous, being really careful. But they were carrying on and joking like it was something they did every day of the week. They were having fun with it.”
The burglars took pieces of stone from a gravestone retailer across the street and used them to break out a window fronting North Pine Street, Smith said. Cut pieces of stone and rocks were scattered among the store’s broken glass.
From his position in the store, Smith saw two people working as lookouts and three more entered his store. Smith did not have easy access to a telephone as his cell was charging in the office, next to the business’ landline.
“People need to know to have their phone charged and have it with them,” he said.
The shotgun he used to protect himself and his business was taken by police as part of the investigation. While he is happy to turn over his weapon to be examined and photographed, Smith doesn’t like losing his protection after he has been attacked.
“I’ve got another one, fortunately,” Smith said.
He was planning to replace the heirloom 16-gauge shotgun with something more modern.
“Lumberton is a fine city, but you have to be careful,” Smith said.
In the past nine months, there has been a significant uptick in crime, Smith said.
“The crime is out of control. Since we had Hurricane Matthew, it’s been like kicking over an ant mound,” Smith said. “You know how mad the ants get when you kick over their home.”
Smith understands the problems Matthew brought. His store was looted on the second night of the October storm.
“It’s a serious situation,” Smith said. “At night, push your living room sofa against the door. The kitchen door, slide that kitchen table behind it.”
But despite the trauma, Smith was still in business as the store cleanup got underway and he was optimistic. A stream of people bought minutes for their cell phones, inquired about replacing cracked screens and generally wished Smith and the Page Talk staff well on Friday.
Smith described his customers as a source of “great joy” and expressed a desire to keep serving and selling to the community.
“I’ve seen Mom come in. Then it’s Mom and Dad. Then Mom and Dad bring in the two kids,” Smith said. “That’s what I get excited about.”
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly