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Authorities release images of possible witnesses in fatal robbery investigation

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.

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