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Published September 24 2012

Shooting of Fargo robbery victim 'very, very rare'

By Mike Nowatzki


FARGO – Police are still looking for a man who shot an employee Sunday night while robbing a northside grocery store, a shooting a police spokesman said was “very, very rare.”

The Sunmart Foods employee was shot twice during an armed robbery late Sunday at the grocery store at 724 North University Drive,

The employee was taken to Sanford Medical Center. His condition wasn’t released, but Lt. Joel Vettel said police were able to communicate with him.

The male suspect fled on foot and remained at large Monday. Vettel said police had a description of the suspect, but it wasn’t released to the public.

“We don’t think there’s a benefit to the investigation to release it at this point, but that might change in the next 24 hours,” he said. “We want to exhaust a few more leads before we put it out to the public.”

Police responded to the store at about 11 p.m. The victim and another employee were inside at closing time when the suspect approached the victim and made demands, Vettel said.

The victim was shot twice during a struggle with the suspect, he said.

No customers were inside the store at the time.

Police are reviewing surveillance video, Vettel said.

Vettel said armed robberies in which someone gets shot are “very, very rare” in Fargo. “In fact, I can’t remember somebody in my career where we’ve actually had an armed robbery where a firearm was used and somebody was hurt as a result of that incident,” he said.

While stressing that he wasn’t blaming the victim, Vettel said police urge that anyone threatened by a robber with a gun to comply with the demands.

The Sunmart store is the only large grocery store near Fargo’s downtown area. Stephanie Berg, who lives about 10 blocks away from the store, was getting groceries on her lunch break Monday and hadn’t heard about the shooting.

“That just is crazy,” she said. “But then, there’s been a lot of armed robberies lately.”

Sunday’s stickup is the latest in a string of armed robberies in the Fargo area over the past six weeks. Businesses recently hit include the Giant Panda restaurant in Fargo on Aug. 17; Gordy’s Travel Plaza in Mapleton on Aug. 20; and Rayon’s Market in south Fargo on Sept. 11. Authorities arrested juveniles in connection with all three of those cases. Police have asked Cass County prosecutors to try to move the cases to adult court.

A string of four robberies last January and February prompted Fargo police to call the numbers “concerning,” especially coming off a 2011 in which Fargo recorded 18 armed robberies, up from 11 each year in 2010 and 2009.

Last November, police began distributing robbery prevention information to convenience stores, liquor stores and hotels.

“If we see some sort of pattern, we’ll certainly do that again,” Vettel said.

Statistics on the number of armed robberies so far this year weren’t immediately available, Vettel said.

Berg, who has lived in north Fargo’s Roosevelt Neighborhood for nearly 12 years, said she, her husband and their five children frequent the Sunmart store “at all hours of the day and night” because they live so close. She said while the store sometimes seems understaffed, “I’ve never felt unsafe coming here.”

A store manager referred questions to Maria Gallegos, senior marketing director for Minneapolis-based Nash Finch Co., which owns Sunmart grocery stores.

In a written statement, Gallegos said Nash Finch is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation. She said the company is concerned about the welfare of the injured worker and that employee and customer safety is its No. 1 priority.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528