Bethlehem Township PA August 1 2020
Like many other retail stores reopening during the pandemic, workers at Cigars International have been balancing how to stay in business while keeping customers and employees safe.
But on Friday, a simple request that a patron wear a mask while inside the Bethlehem Township store erupted in gunfire, leaving its staff rattled and police searching for an armed suspect.
An arrest warrant was issued for Adam Zaborowski, 35, of the 800 block of Main Street, Slatington, on attempted homicide and other charges.
Police allege Zaborowski shot at a worker in the Cigars International parking lot shortly after 11:23 a.m. Friday. No one was injured.
Police say Zaborowski entered the store on Nazareth Pike and was asked to leave because he hadn’t worn a mask. Zaborowski was offered the chance to select his purchase and go outside to wait for it to be delivered, according to witnesses. Mat Cook, the director of retail operations for Cigars International, said Zaborowski ignored the offer, walked around the store, took two cigars and left.
The store worker followed Zaborowski outside and told him he would need to pay for the items, Cook said. That’s when police say Zaborowski went to his pickup truck, reached inside and pulled out a handgun. Police said he fired three shots — two at the store worker and another into the air.
No one was hit by a bullet, police said, but there were several patrons outside the store smoking at the time of the shooting.
Zaborowski took off in a bright blue Dodge Dakota pickup truck and drove east on Brodhead Road, police said.
Zaborowski is charged with attempted criminal homicide, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, robbery and having an unlicensed gun, all felonies. He’s charged also with prohibited gun possession and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors.
He’s believed armed and dangerous. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to contact Bethlehem Township police investigator Ed Fox at email@example.com or 610-419-9646.
Cook said workers are unnerved over the incident and the employee who was targeted is safe, but understandably shaken up.
“He wasn’t hurt, thankfully, and that was the most important thing for us,” Cook said Friday afternoon. “Our primary focus right now is our employee and making sure this individual is safe and in a good place. We want to make sure we take care of him at this time. This was a very unfortunate situation that really did not need to happen.”
Cook said the store has a policy of requiring all customers to wear masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the store associate told the customer as much. The man’s only reply, Cook said, was “medical condition.”
“And we do have a protocol for that, too, so [our employee] said, ‘No problem, we’re happy to help,‘” Cook said.
Pennsylvania has mandated that people wear face coverings while indoors unless they have a medical condition or other reason that would not allow them to safely wear a mask. Though Friday’s incident appears to be the first shooting in the Lehigh Valley related to a dispute over mask-wearing, enforcement has caused some altercations. In May, a customer at a Lower Macungie Township Wawa allegedly threatened a worker who confronted the person about needing to wear a mask.
Nationally, there have been several incidents where people have opened fire after disputes about mask-wearing and other social distancing requirements. On July 26, in New Orleans, a man shot at convenience store workers who asked him to wear a mask, according to nola.com. In San Antonio, Texas, a bus passenger was critically wounded in May after confronting a man regarding COVID-19 precautions on public transportation, TV news station KSAT reported. And in Flint, Michigan, a security guard at a Family Dollar store was shot and killed following a confrontation with a group angry that one of the women was not allowed to enter the store without a mask, according to the Detroit News.
Cook said the incident likely won’t change how the store conducts business, and it takes the risks associated with the coronavirus seriously.
“From a standpoint of face masks, we follow all government regulations and guidelines and take extra precautionary measures to make sure our employees are safe and our customers are safe,” Cook said. “We’ll take a look at the situation, but we really do think this is a one-off incident and we’re looking to put this behind and continue to operate as we have been.”
When news of what happened at the store spread Friday, Cook said calls and texts came pouring in, but not just from worried family and friends. He said loyal customers were reaching out to make sure everyone was safe.
“It’s a small world and we’re all like family,” Cook said. “To have them all calling to check in on us, it’s really meant a lot.”