By Joshua Benton and Robin Erb
Blade Staff Writers
Police continued their search yesterday for two men who shot a central-city store owner in a botched robbery attempt Monday night. And they’re answering the phones.
In an outpouring of public concern, police and hospital officials have fielded more than 50 calls from citizens asking about Suleman “Sam” Odetallah, 51, who was in serious condition last night in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.
But police have no suspects in the crime that has rocked the neighborhood surrounding Mr. Odetallah’s store, the Brazil Market, at Indiana Avenue and 11th Street.
Lemon Larance, 58, a store employee, said he was watching a small television when the men burst in. One stood near the doorway; the other began demanding money from Mr. Odetallah. Both wore handkerchiefs over their faces and both carried handguns.
Mr. Larance said he froze.
“This dude is standing there waving a gun,” he said. “I didn’t want to turn around and look. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I just stood there.”
The man near the cash register vaulted over the counter. He and Mr. Odetal lah began struggling, and the second man fired once at the store owner.
The two men fled on foot toward the Port Lawrence Homes, apparently without any money.
Mr. Odetallah, a bullet in his throat, staggered outside and collapsed, while Mr. Larance ran to a nearby fire station for help.
In the Brazil’s neighborhood – filled with busy downtown entry streets, old office buildings, and low-income families – the store is the only place to go for the necessities of day-to-day life.
Yesterday, the store was closed.
“It’s a shame one person can take away something from the whole community,’ said Francisca Miller, who would pick up a lunchtime bag of Fritos at the Brazil most days. “For people without transportation, there’s nothing within walking distance.”
Besides the Brazil, the nearest store is at least 10 blocks away, according to Paula Nobles, a receptionist across the street. “I don’t know where I’ll go now.”
“Sam’s my buddy,” said Tammy Foster, who has lived across the street from the store for the last five years. Ms. Foster always took barbecue sandwiches to Mr. Odetallah whenever she made them.
“He’s just a very sweet person. He always gave me credit when I needed it, and he was nice to everybody.
“Now I’m going to have to go to the east side,” she said. “I’m scared of the east side.”
Residents said the shop is the neighborhood’s center, the one place everyone from all levels of society went at one time or another. “I was there all the time,” said Loulamae Noble, an employee at the St. Vincent de Paul Society store, which is next door to the Brazil. “TV dinners, potato chips, ice cream – basic stuff.
“The only thing wrong was those cigars he smokes. I couldn’t stand them,” she said.
Even people who barely know Mr. Odetallah benefitted from his generosity. Soon after Tarina McFadden moved into the LMHA housing complex four months ago, two youths, each about 8 years old, stole a check from her mailbox and went to the market to try to cash it.
But Mr. Odetallah immediately called police and hand-delivered the check to Mrs. McFadden’s door.
“He’s a really nice person,” she said. “He went out of his way for me, and I was new in the neighborhood.”