What to Know
On April 5, a robber burst into the North Hills 7-Eleven where Charlie Miller, 67, worked for 10 years and shot Miller during a robbery.
Miller survived, and Abington Police identified and arrested the suspected shooter, whom they said is a serial robber named Lamar Sowell.
Neighbors hailed Miller a hero on Monday night at an Abington Township town hall meeting. He shared his story with NBC10 after the meeting.
Charlie Miller is keenly aware that a malfunctioning handgun was the only thing that stood between him and death in the wee hours of April 5.
Miller, 67, a longtime store clerk and a pillar of his Montgomery County neighborhood of North Hills, in Glenside, Abington Township, found himself face-to-face with a masked gunman who came in to rob the 7-Eleven on Limekiln Pike where he works about 1:35 a.m. that morning.
The gunman shot Miller during the course of the robbery. But Miller lived to tell it, and found himself hailed a hero on Monday night at a community town hall meeting in North Hills, steps from the 7-Eleven, hosted by township Commissioner Steve Kalinoski, Abington Police Deputy Chief John Livingood and other local officials.
Miller was among about 50 concerned community members from North Hills, Ardsley and the surrounding areas who attended the meeting at the Edge Hill Fire Company to hear about an arrest made in the shooting and another recent robbery of the same store that police are investigating. When Livingood recognized him, calling him a hero, Miller's neighbors gave him a hearty round of applause.
After the meeting, Miller recounted the moments of terror he faced inside that 7-Eleven, where he worked for a decade. He said he was stocking shelves when he looked up to find a handgun six inches from his face and a man with a cloth over his face and no intention of leaving empty-handed.
"So I swiped it away," said Miller, a soft-spoken but scrappy man with kind eyes who walks with a cane now and wears a baseball cap bearing his name.
The robber headed toward the cash register -- which Miller had locked when he went to stock shelves -- and Miller followed close behind. That's when the robber turned on him, firing one bullet into his upper leg.
"Once I did hear the shot and heard the crack of bone ... my first reaction was to get up," Miller recounted. "But the first thing I thought was, keep your head down because the last thing you need is a head shot."
And that's what he said the robber seemed to be angling for: Miller said the man fired another shot at him and missed, then went to fire a third when the gun jammed. He ultimately took off with nothing.
Police identified Miller's accused shooter, who they said is suspected in three other nearby robberies, as Lamar Sowell, of Philadelphia, and said he worked as a security guard at Cheltenham Mall until police linked him to the crimes. Livingood said officers found the gun used to shoot Miller in Sowell's home and arrested him not long after the shooting. Sowell is now jailed and charged with attempted murder, illegal gun possession, robbery and related offenses.
Livingood told relieved residents Monday night that federal prosecutors are considering taking on the case, which would mean the man who terrorized their community would be behind bars for decades. If they don't, he vowed to push for a stiff penalty at the local level.
Abington Police said Sowell is suspected in three additional robberies: one Dec. 9 of the same 7-Eleven, one Nov. 26 at the 7-Eleven on the 200 block of Easton Road in Cheltenham Township and another Dec. 5 at the Sunoco about a block away, also on Easton Road in Cheltenham Township.
But just when police locked Sowell up and thought they'd put the armed robberies behind the community, Livingood told residents Monday night, someone else robbed the same 7-Eleven on Limekiln Pike at gunpoint just before 11 p.m. on May 23. Livingood said the most recent incident had nothing to do with Sowell's alleged spree, and assured them a police K-9 found two valuable pieces of evidence nearby that he's confident will help them find the latest robber: a long wig and the shirt he wore during the robbery.
He said Abington Police are running directed patrols in the area to keep an eye out and make sure no more robberies happen, and that they have plans to meet with 7-Eleven supervisors to work on making the store a less desirable robbery target.
"Trust me when I tell you that we are keeping an extra check on that," Livingood said.
As for Miller, who moved to Abington Township from Allentown in the 1970s, there's a long road ahead. He'll have to undergo physical therapy for two to four months to help him heal, he said.
For now, though, Miller's just happy to be alive. He grinned as several neighbors stopped by to wish him well and said he's glad the police got his alleged shooter off the street.
"We're coming up on summer, and there are a lot of kids," he said. "The last thing we need is someone in that mental state packing a gun."
Abington Police are still searching for the person responsible for the May 23 robbery. If you have information, contact Abington Police at 267-536-1100, ext. 3.