80-year-old Calif. store owner who gained viral fame for shooting would-be robber dies

Craig Cope, who spawned a get-tough slogan to commemorate the confrontation, died two months after suffering a stroke

By Brian Rokos
The Press-Enterprise

NORCO, Calif. — An 80-year-old Norco market owner whose videotaped shooting of a would-be robber in July made national headlines and spawned a get-tough slogan to commemorate the confrontation, died Tuesday, Dec. 27, two months after suffering a stroke.

Craig Cope’s death was confirmed by the market, Norco Mayor Kevin Bash and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the four men charged in the case.

“We lost our Craig this morning. I’m sorry I am without words right now but I promised to not leave you in the dark,” an unnamed employee of the Norco Market & Liquor posted on the store’s Facebook page. The employee said a memorial service would be held at the store on an unspecified date.

Cope had a stroke on Oct. 18 that left him unable to speak, according to another of the store’s Facebook posts. A post on Dec. 14 said Cope had not made any progress.

Cope died at his home, said Amy McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

At about 2:47 a.m. on July 31, Cope, who was doing paperwork at the Sixth Street store, watched on surveillance video as a car rolled up occupied by four people wearing masks and gloves and carrying guns.

Two people entered, one carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle, who pointed it at Cope, the District Attorney’s Office said. Cope armed himself with a shotgun that he kept behind the counter.

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

Cope fired one shot.

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

The suspected robbers ran out of the store, climbed into the SUV and sped off. They were later arrested when they showed up at a hospital. The wounded man’s arm was intact.

In Norco, where residents value their Second Amendment rights as much as their horses, Cope was considered a hero.

A local entrepreneur sold T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the phrase “Don’t Mess With Norco — We’ll Shoot Your Arm Off.”  Even Sheriff Chad Bianco, who praised Cope for his calm and quick thinking while protecting himself, purchased one.

Half the proceeds were presented to Cope when he returned to work in August after he recovered from the heart attack he suffered during the robbery.

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

Davon Anthony Broadus, 24, of Inglewood, Justin Kyle Johnson, 22, of Inglewood, Jamar Elijah Williams, 26, of Las Vegas, and the man who was shot — 23-year-old Rasheed DaShawn Lee Belvin of South Los Angeles — have pleaded not guilty to charges that include attempted robbery, possession of a stolen firearm and elder abuse.

McKenzie, the DA’s spokeswoman, said the case will continue to be prosecuted. The defendants are next due in court on Feb. 23.

“His passing will not affect the presentation of the case other than the fact that we will not be able to hear what happened from his own words,” McKenzie said.

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