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Jamaica merchant shot to death in grocery store

Mohammed Alamgir was the kind of beloved local merchant who let his customers buy groceries with verbal currency, giving nothing more than the promise to pay him later.

But the three robbers who held up his small Hillside Avenue grocery at Parsons Boulevard Saturday night never gave him a chance to show off the generosity that won him many a friend in his Jamaica neighborhood. They shot him dead instead, police said.

A bullet struck Alamgir above his left eye as he stepped inside the Dhaka Market after his brother and two other men fled to safety, witnesses said. The 38-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh died Sunday afternoon around 5:15 p.m. at Mary Immaculate Hospital, where doctors removed him from life support after determining he was brain dead, friends said.

He leaves behind a wife in Bangladesh whom he married only a year ago, and a baby son he never met.

"What can you say about somebody that's an angel?" said Priscilla Carabello, a mother of two who lived upstairs from Alamgir for the past decade across the street from his store. "If you need anything, he'll give it to you. He would help a stranger. I'm having a hard time finding out why anybody would hurt him."

The three robbers fled, police said, and no arrests had been made in the ongoing investigation.

Dozens of friends and neighbors held vigil in the hospital's waiting room from Saturday night into Sunday afternoon, awaiting word of Alamgir's condition with a flicker of hope that went out once doctors told them his brain had stopped functioning.

"It's very sad," said a friend who only wanted to be identified as Liton. "We were still keeping hope. Hopefully, there would be some miracle he would be alive."

When the three intruders came through the door around 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Alamgir had been playing games with friends in the basement below the grocery store and meat market at 153-32 Hillside Ave. he owned with his younger brother.

The men asked for the butcher, who was busy sweeping, and they waited a few minutes inside the store like ordinary customers until he was ready for their order.

"They asked for the chicken first. I asked them how many chickens they want?" the butcher recounted in Bengali, speaking through a translator as he stood outside the hospital Sunday afternoon. "They didn't say anything and they took out a gun. 'If you have money, give it to me.'"

The butcher cried out to Alamgir's brother, who manned the cash register in the front, then jumped over a refrigerator and table in an attempt to flee, he said. But the gunman and an accomplice caught him and pushed him to the ground with the pistol pointed toward his chest.

"I was able to fight them off and go toward the basement," said the butcher, who fled with Alamgir's brother.

Liton, who had been standing at the front of the store, escaped through the front door but twisted his knee as he wrestled with a third robber who stood guard on the street. He finally crawled to safety in a neighboring accounting office, where he called police, he said.

But Alamgir came upstairs after hearing his younger brother scream to him, Liton said. He was shot when he opened the door at the top of the staircase as the robbers stood at the front counter.

"He came outside and they just shot him," Liton said, marveling at the senselessness of the crime. "Why these guys holding the gun at the meat carver? He's just an employee, he don't have money. If they want some money, talk to who has the money."

The grief of Alamgir's loss rippled through Jamaica's tight-knit Bangladeshi community, where he was known as a selfless friend who helped out neighbors with food and money.

"He's the nicest guy I've ever known," said Ali Mohammed, 34, his roommate of the past 13 years. "I'm going to miss him very badly."

Alamgir, whom friends knew by the nickname "Juel," emigrated about 13 years ago from Bangladesh, where he returned last year to get married. His son was born after he came back to New York, and at the time of his death he had filed for immigration papers so his family could join him, friends said.

"He thought he would go back to Bangladesh and see his son," Liton said. "It's not going to happen."

Alamgir's friends say robberies are becoming all too common in the Bangladeshi stores that line Hillside Avenue, a trend they say police have failed to curb despite their visible presence on the street.

"They're being robbed pretty much every day," said Rayehan Kausar, 25, of Jamaica. "It's like a redundant pattern, happening over and over again."

Uddin Mohammed, 42, was robbed at gunpoint about nine months ago in his own store on Hillside Avenue. "Thank God I'm alive. No one shot me," he said. "I just tell them, 'Take the money,' and they go."

He has since handed the store over to a cousin to run.

"I don't want to die like that," he said.

Now Alamgir's brother harbors the same fears.

"I'm very scared to run the store right now," he said at the hospital, speaking in a daze shortly before Alamgir's death. "They can come anytime to shoot me because I'm the witness."

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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