Authorities release images of possible witnesses in fatal robbery investigation

  • Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 7:30 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 12:05 a.m.
Authorities have released a screen shot of two customers who may have witnessed a gunman who shot and killed a store owner on Mooresville Road Monday night.
Authorities have released a screen shot of two customers who may have witnessed a gunman who shot and killed a store owner on Mooresville Road Monday night.

SALISBURY — Investigators spent Tuesday looking for clues in the murder of a western Rowan County store owner gunned down during an apparent robbery.

Authorities said they re-interviewed possible witnesses and examined surveillance footage from the store, but officers are still searching for two male customers who walked out of the store seconds before a gunman shot and killed 59-year-old Hecham Abualeinan.

Family members of Abualeinan, who lived with him behind the store, told officers they heard a yell and a loud bang before they rushed to the storefront. Detectives said Abualeinan was found lying on the floor. He was shot once in the head.

Nearly 24 hours after the murder, investigators released screen shots of the two men who may have witnessed the gunman coming into the store about 9:30 p.m. Anyone with information about them is asked to contact the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Officers are also working with the State Bureau of Investigation.

Terry Petrucelli, a frequent customer, said he knew Abualeinan better than most customers.

Petrucelli stopped every morning for coffee. Abualeinan always asked about his family, he said.

“He was a very nice person, and he didn’t deserve this,” Petrucelli said.

When Abualeinan bought the store, formerly Ron’s Texaco, several years ago, Petrucelli befriended the man and told him about the former owner’s safety concerns, though they were few. Since buying the business, Petrucelli said, his friend tried to build ties in the community and was “accommodating” for store patrons any way he could be.

When Petrucelli hurt his back and needed surgery — and his wife later needed surgery, too — Abualeinan called each day to check on them.

“He and I got to be real good friends,” he said. “He was just a common, caring person.”

In June, Abualeinan was charged with selling alcohol to a minor following a 17-year-old’s fatal accident on an extended skateboard. Abualeinan told the Post that Jonah King, who lived nearby, had been to the store many times and previously shown him identification. He received probation.

But the teen’s death deeply affected Abualeinan, Petrucelli said. “It upset him tremendously,” Petrucelli said. “I said, ‘There’s nothing you can do.’ He said, ‘I know. I think about it every day.’ ”

Along with stopping in the mornings, Petrucelli said he typically stopped in the evening for gas and to talk with Abualeinan, who usually worked nights.

But Petrucelli didn’t stop Monday night. His wife passed the store about 9:15 p.m. and said everything looked fine.

“To rob somebody is one thing,” he said, “but kill them? For what, a couple hundred bucks?”

Authorities are offering a reward of $2,500 for anyone with information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of the shooter.

Anyone with information about Abualeinan’s death is asked to contact Lt. Chad Moose at 704-216-8687 or Crime Stoppers at 866-639-5245.

Notice about comments: is pleased to offer readers the ability to comment on stories. We expect our readers to engage in lively, yet civil discourse. cannot promise that readers will not occasionally find offensive or inaccurate comments posted in the comments area. Responsibility for the statements posted lies with the person submitting the comment, not If you find a comment that is objectionable, please click "report abuse" and we will review it for possible removal. Please be reminded, however, that in accordance with our Terms of Use and federal law, we are under no obligation to remove any third party comments posted on our website. Full terms and conditions can be read here.

Do not post the following:

  • Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
  • Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
  • Personal attacks, insults or threats.
  • The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
  • Comments unrelated to the story.