A man was shot in the stomach while inside a neighborhood smoke shop and convenience store in Queens, but the situation could have been even worse had it not been for an off-duty NYPD office who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Law enforcement sources said that the gunman, 63-year-old Steven Cohen who has been living in a minivan parked behind the shop in Ozone Park, went into the store just after 6 p.m. Monday and was escorted out when he couldn't pay for an item. Cohen later returned with his gun and shot the man who kicked him out, sources told NBC New York.
After firing at that employee, Cohen tried to shoot the store clerk as well, but was thwarted by plexiglass, according to police. He then left the store, but Officer Jason Maharaj, who just happened to be there, ran outside and tackled him to the ground.
The 26-year-old man who was shot, Mohmediyan Tarwala, later died from his injuries, police said. The 32-year-old clerk who was shot at was not hurt.
Later in the night, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea praised the officer's actions.
"On & off-duty, your NYPD cops put their lives on their line to protect New Yorkers— it's what they do. Outstanding work, Officer Maharaj!" Shea tweeted after the incident.
Another clerk from a store across the street said he might have seen the gunman earlier in the afternoon. Chris Hanlon said detectives questioned him about a man with a similar description who came into his store asking for medical attention. Hanlon said he called 911, but by the time the ambulance arrived the man was gone.
"He didn't seem in any way violent, he just seemed like he needed help and I tried to provide that help for him. If he had a gun, I didn't see it," Hanlon said. "It's scary, it's still sinking in at the moment. The shock hasn't really hit me yet."
Police have not said if the incidents are related.
Cohen was charged with murder, attempted murder and criminal use of firearm, police said.