A Bronx bodega worker was accidentally shot and killed by a police officer responding to an armed robbery inside the store early Friday morning, according to law enforcement officials.
Police say a gunman wearing a ski mask and two other men entered the bodega at 631 East 169th Street at 2 a.m. Friday and ordered the store's night manager and another employee to lie on the floor. The gunman also struck the night manager in the back of the head. The gun was not loaded, police said.
A passerby who witnessed the robbery in progress called 911. As police arrived, two of the suspects fled to the back of the store and basement. At that point, Felix Mora, the night manager, and Reynaldo Cuevas, the other employee, ran out of the store
19-year-old Cuevas followed Mora and was accidentally shot dead by an officer as he exited the store. In surveillance footage shared by police at a press conference Friday afternoon, Cuevas is seen colliding with the officer as he runs out of the store.
"We have not spoken to the officer, but there is clearly a collision and the gun goes off," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the press conference.
The victim's cousin Jose Garcia said he witnessed the scene and that Cuevas, a nephew of the store's owner, did not have his hands raised as he left the store and the cop opened fire on him.
"I saw the police shoot him," Garcia told NBC 4 New York. "He came up, but he didn't put his hands up. And he tripped or something and when he fell on the floor, they shot him."
Kelly said that based on the surveillance video he believed the officer's gun was accidentally discharged.
"Basically he was trying to get away from the robber and he was shot, " said Arjelis Duval, who also witnessed the shooting.
One of the suspects, Christopher Dorsey, 17, followed the employees out of the store and surrendered to police. The other two suspects, Orlando Ramos, 32, and Ernesto Delgado, 28 remained barricaded inside the store for over three hours until they were arrested, Kelly said.
Police said that Ramos had been tied to a pole in the store by his accomplice in hopes that they could convince the cops that they too were victims.
A .32 caliber revolver was recovered from the scene, as well as one of the suspect's backpacks, which contained lottery tickets and packs of cigarettes from the store, along with $718.
All three suspects in the robbery are charged with felony murder, in addition to robbery and weapons possession charges, police said.
Maria Acevado, a friend of Cuevas', said she remembered his great sense of humor.
"He was nice, he was funny," she said. "I don't know why they did this to him."
Some residents and activists criticized the NYPD for their handling of the incident.
"If you're going to respond to a place where there are hostages, there should be a distance between you and the locale," said Fernando Mateo, of the Bodega Association of the U.S. "You shouldn't be right outside of a door so that if anyone comes out they run right into you."
The officer involved in the shooting is a seven-year veteran of the NYPD, who had never fired his weapon in the line of duty, officials said.
A police officer responding to the robbery was also injured in a car crash with an SUV stopped at a red light on Third Avenue and Boston Road -- about a mile away from the bodega. The crash demolished the NYPD cruiser and the officer had to be extricated from the vehicle.
The driver of the Range Rover that crashed with cops was treated and released, but the NYPD officer remains hospitalized at Lincoln Hospital after sustaining a broken left femur and a possible fractured nose in the accident, police said.