March 31, 2010 was much like any other last day of that month. On that afternoon, Bill Cano, his business partner and watchmaker Domingo Diaz, and Bill’s wife talked about April Fool’s Day pranks. But what happened shortly after that conversation ended was no joke.
Bill’s wife left the store to get lunch for her husband, owner of Cano’s Diamonds, located in San Angelo, TX, and Domingo. Minutes after her departure a young man entered the store. Within moments he pointed a gun at Bill and demanded the cash and loose diamonds the armed robber knew were in a container under the store’s main counter.
Given the April Fool’s Day conversation that was happening just minutes before the violent interruption, Bill asked the robber: “Is this a joke?” The store owner quickly found out it wasn’t.
The robber asked Bill to fill a blue bag with cash and loose diamonds. As the contents of the container were transferred handful by handful to the robber’s bag, Bill could sense the criminal was feeling some satisfaction that his crime would soon be over. Bill also suspected his life soon would be too.
“At that point he seemed to be settling down a bit, beginning to feel he was accomplishing what he set out to do,” says Bill. “I sensed the last thing he wanted was witnesses.”
Bill’s instincts were right. Moments later a shot was fired point-blank at him. Astonishingly, the robber missed. Although the gun was incorrectly held sideways (a gun-training basic that didn’t escape Bill’s attention) close proximity was overwhelmingly working in the robber’s favor.
During the first moments of the armed robbery, Bill’s partner Domingo was watching the robbery unfold behind an old heavy shipping desk made of sturdy maple wood. Like Bill, Domingo is former military, an avid hunter and gunman, and also has a handgun conceal-and-carry permit.
After firing the first shot and miraculously missing Bill at point-blank range, Domingo fired a hollow-point round from his .357 Magnum at the robber and hit him in the chest. Given the size and type of round, and the close proximity of the shot taken, the business partners thought for sure the robber would drop instantly.
But with the amounts and types of drugs surging through the robber’s body, that wasn’t the case. (Toxicology reports would later prove that the bad guy had made some other bad choices with traces of crystal meth, cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic adrenaline in his system.) As Bill filled the robber’s bag in the store’s office two small but very significant factors gave the business partners key opportunities to defend themselves.
A lefty, the robber was using his primary hand to hold and fire the gun, while using his right hand to carry the bag full of cash and diamonds. With his full hands the robber became momentarily confused when he tried to escape through an office door that opened inward instead of outward.
Falling back on his military training, Bill seized the opportunity and reached for his 9mm Beretta. The robber quickly made his way to the front door shooting back into the store in the direction of the office. Domingo then fired a second round and Bill shot off his first. Both bullets hit their intended target, wounding the robber in the side and another wound to his back.
Eventually the robber made it to the foyer near the neighboring optometrist’s showroom. With three significant bullet wounds in his body the robber was becoming disoriented, began stumbling and then fell to the ground.
The robber was pushing himself up from the floor with his right hand, which was also holding the bag of cash and diamonds. And, with his left hand he was still holding his gun. At this moment Bill could see the robber’s accomplice just outside the door in a light-colored pickup truck. In the fleeting moment that seemed to go on forever, his mind raced.
The robber was getting up from the floor, perhaps readying his weapon to fire. And, for all Bill knew, the driver of the getaway car might soon join in on the gunfire exchange. The situation needed to end and end soon.
Bill shouted to Domingo to get the shotgun from the office and come back. When Bill returned his attention to the robber, he was continuing to ready himself to fire his gun. That’s when Bill shot the fourth and final round that ended the robber’s life and the last crime he would ever commit.
“So many thoughts went through my mind, but this situation had to end,” says Bill. “Domingo and I couldn’t believe our eyes: this guy just kept coming at us and firing his gun.”
As the situation de-escalated, the store owners placed their weapons on the showroom floor in plain sight and called the police. Friends with police in the area, Bill told them what happened. Responding officers and paramedics that examined the robber’s body discovered the gun was still in his primary hand with his finger still on the trigger.
“He fully intended to keep firing until he eliminated the threat, and we were the threat,” says Bill.
In the immediate aftermath, Bill had trouble eating and sleeping. He and his wife stayed with family and friends in the event the robber’s accomplice might look for some payback.
Several weeks passed and the police cleared Bill and Domingo. “They determined it to be self-defense and the case was closed,” says Bill.
During the investigation, Bill spoke frequently with his friends on the police force. Although Bill felt “beat up” in the wake of the armed robbery attempt to his store, the emotional, physical and mental anguish began to lift knowing he’d stopped a serious criminal from committing future crimes.
Equally important, Bill learned that the robber’s past crimes included a home invasion. During the commission of that crime the robber threatened a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint. A friend on the police force went to the girl’s house after the armed robbery attempt at Bill’s store.
|After the March 2010 robbery attempt and subsequent eviction, Cano’s Diamonds puchased this building and is thriving there today.|
The officer told the girl the robber was dead and that she didn’t have to worry about him anymore. Hearing that from a friend on the police force began to lighten the weight of ending the criminal’s life. “This was a bad man who was bound to kill someone during his crimes,” says Bill. “It was just a matter of time.”
But that was only a momentary relief. Bill returned to his jewelry store only to be greeted with an eviction notice. The neighboring optometrist was also Bill’s landlord, who didn’t want a jewelry store in his building that might attract other criminals. “My wife and I were ready to call it quits,” says Bill. “My back-up plan was to return to government intelligence work or government work.”
Ready to take his life in a new direction, Bill closed his jewelry store and was ready to move back into his house. On the way home from San Antonio, where Bill and his wife sought refuge at a friend’s home, the couple passed by a retail space that was for sale.
The couple had always dreamed of operating in that retail space - and it was for sale. Bill pulled the car over then turned to his wife. And, after a few minutes of talking she said, “Let’s do it.”
With his wife’s blessing, Bill purchased the store and opened later in 2010. He dispensed with cash-for-gold exchanges and issued only checks. Loose diamonds purchased from the public were now kept in a safe. He also took on more finished jewelry from key vendor partners, and expanded his custom work. Today, he and Domingo have a thriving business with gold buying, custom work, and finished jewelry sales.
In looking back at the March 2010 robbery, Bill has made his peace with what happened. And, he has more thanks than regrets these days. No one in his shop or the doctor’s office next door was hurt or killed. He found the courage and temerity to work through the emotional shock of taking a life. A trusted war veteran was his security officer for the first six months in the new store. And, he went from renting a small 400-square-foot store to owning a retail space with 2,400 square feet of space.
These days, Bill and each of his five-member staff carry handguns full time. Each has conceal-and-carry permits and is well trained in gun safety and usage. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but that’s the reality we live in today,” says Bill.
What works for Bill and his staff maybe wouldn’t work for most jewelry store owners. Bill’s advice: “If it’s a smash-and-grab, let it go. And, if you’re confronted with a life-threatening situation and you have a gun in the store, be sure you intend to use it and be well-trained to do just that, or the weapon intended to protect you will be the weapon that kills you.”
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