GAGE PARK — Pina Cabrales wasn't at her currency exchange store Saturday evening, when police say a 55-year-old man pulled out a gun and attempted a robbery. But her two teenage sons were, she said, and she's "grateful to God" for the customer who allegedly shot and killed the robber at close range.
Around 7 p.m. Saturday, police said, Reginald Gildersleeve walked into Agencia Mexicana, 2701 W. 51st St., pointed a gun and demanded money, police said. Another man, who owns a concealed carry license, then pulled out his own gun and shot Gildersleeve to death.
Cabrales called the man, a "first-time customer" trying to send a money order, an "angel from heaven."
"All I know is that someone came in here threatening my sons, and this angel used a gun he was allowed to carry, and he saved them," Cabrales said.
The man wasn't identified by police.
She wasn't glad to see the robber killed, Cabrales added, but she had no qualms about the way the man intervened.
"Of course I don't wake up wishing death on all the bad people in the world," Cabrales said. "But if you go around with a gun trying to rob people, you have to be responsible for the consequences."
Ed Guzman, co-owner of an electronics store two doors down from Agencia Mexicana, said he was handing out candy to children outside on Saturday when he noticed people running out of the currency exchange.
When he went to check on the store owners, he said, he found an ugly crime scene but was ultimately grateful for the shooter.
"I don't believe in vigilante justice, but I don't know what would have happened if that guy hadn't been there," Guzman said. "I mean, the same thing could just as easily have happened to my store."
For the row of small businesses along the 2700 block of West 51st Street, Guzman said, safety has long been a concern.
On Oct. 2, an armed man robbed Submarine Pier sandwich shop down the block, according to manager Estela Vidales. It was not the first time her store was robbed, she said, and the police never arrested a suspect.
"I do trust the police, but lately I really haven't felt safe here," Vidales said. "I never like violence, but in [this] case, I think he did the right thing. I'm glad he was there."
For Guzman, who said police "never seem to be around, unless you don't want them to be," armed customers may be the key to safety.
"I definitely feel safer with some of those action heroes walking around, in case [a robbery] like that happens," Guzman said. "I mean, if that guy were my customer, he wouldn't have to pay for anything at my store for the rest of his life. I'd owe him my life."
Down the block, Esteban Cruz, owner of Haberinto Western Wear, said the attempted robbery and shooting changed the way he thought about guns.
"Seeing that happen right on this block makes me think I'd feel much better if I were armed, and if my customers were armed," Cruz said. "Now I want to get a concealed carry permit myself."
The shooter is unlikely to face charges, police said.
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