By Ken MacLeod, WBZ-TV

BELMONT (CBS) – Concerned customers brought hugs and well-wishes.

“I was afraid something happened to her,” says customer Elizabeth Gulezin. “So I had to see it with my own eyes.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karen Twomey reports.

They were a bit surprised to find Irina Kotzabaldiris back behind the counter of her Belmont convenience store – only a day after getting robbed at gunpoint.

It was Sunday, just before suppertime, when the guy strolled in, as Irina chatted with a friend who had stopped by to visit her.

“I didn’t think about the gun,” says Irina. “I thought ‘Stop him, stop him, stop him!'”

And so, the 62-year-old Bulgarian immigrant struggled with the bandit – and the crook’s pistol went off.

“And everybody was stunned – like ‘what happened?'” says a chuckling Irina.

Police recovered a shell casing, but haven’t yet located a bullet hole inside the Star K store on Pleasant Street.

But the shot didn’t hit anybody.

The guy then pushed his way to the cash register, grabbed her keys and tried to open it, as she tore off his makeshift mask and sunglasses.

“He started to match the key to open the drawer,” Irina says, “but his hand was trembling.”

When she threatened to call police, he ripped the phone from the wall.

At that point, the crook headed out the door empty-handed, but when he didn’t see any customer outside, he figured he had the time to go back in for another try.

“And now starts a second struggle,” smiles Irina.

He got the cash drawer open this time and grabbed several hundred bucks, with Irina refusing to give him a moment’s peace.

“I’m behind him trying to pull the money out of his hands.”

Store security cameras weren’t working, and police are quick to urge against following Irina’s bold example.

“We don’t want to be critical of people,” explains Belmont police Lieutenant Richard Santangelo. “But in this case, giving up the money may have been the more prudent thing to do.”

Irina is still wearing her hospital bracelet – which covers some of her scrapes and bruises from the ordeal.

She was knocked down trying one last thing to block the robber’s exit.

“And I start to pull his pants down, and the guy couldn’t move,” muses the store clerk.

He managed to get away despite that, but Irina is proud of her effort.

“I never knew that side of me,” she says. “It’s so much adrenaline.”

The hold-up man is described as a skinny white guy wearing a black hoodie and gray sweatpants.


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