Hugs, tears at supermarket where cashier was fatally shot after mask dispute

Ex-Big Bear Supermarket employee Dora Crawford leaves the store Tuesday after grieving with former coworkers.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Ex-Big Bear Supermarket employee Dora Crawford leaves the store Tuesday after grieving with former coworkers.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

DeKalb store closed after death of Laquitta Willis, 41; retired deputy recovering

Big Bear Supermarket was closed for business Tuesday, but its doors were open for those who came by to grieve and lament the loss of a beloved employee.

Those who regularly visit or work at the Candler Road store in DeKalb County are grappling with anguish and fear after a member of the staff was shot to death inside the supermarket following what authorities said was an argument with a customer over wearing a mask.

Laquitta Willis, 41, died at Grady Memorial Hospital on Monday evening, hours after a disgruntled shopper opened fire on her while she was working, DeKalb police said.

“I couldn’t sleep last night after I saw it on the news,” Dora Crawford said outside the store Tuesday morning. “I felt like I needed to be close to someone. I just want to give somebody a hug.”

Crawford, a former supermarket employee, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she has maintained a close bond with the people at Big Bear.

“Everybody in here is like family,” she said. “People that’ve been here, that worked here, still come to the store that don’t work here anymore.”

Two others were taken to the hospital after the fatal shooting spiraled into a gunfire exchange that injured both the suspect charged in Willis’ death and an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who tried to intervene.

It’s all hard to take in, Crawford said. The store’s somber exterior Tuesday was lined with flowers where people had created a memorial for the slain cashier.

Willis had worked at Big Bear for over 10 years, according to a GoFundMe created by her family. She was described as an integral figure in the store.

“She was like management to me,” Crawford said, adding that she had worked alongside the late cashier for a year. “I looked up to her as management. She worked customer service, she trained cashiers and everything. She’s just a good person all around.”

ExploreDeKalb cashier shot to death after mask dispute, authorities say

The incident began as an argument between Willis and a shopper, Victor Lee Tucker Jr., over wearing his face mask. The sheriff’s office did not specify if Tucker had refused to wear a mask, but signage outside the store indicates that face coverings are required while inside.

Crawford contended that encountering irate customers at the store is not unusual.

“We had to deal with a lot of different people coming in,” she said. “Some people had attitude problems and stuff and they get smart with us, but we have to ignore that because we have to do our job.”

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An employee at the Big Bear Supermarket was fatally shot after getting into an argument with a customer over wearing his mask, police said.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

An employee at the Big Bear Supermarket was fatally shot after getting into an argument with a customer over wearing his mask, police said.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

caption arrowCaption
An employee at the Big Bear Supermarket was fatally shot after getting into an argument with a customer over wearing his mask, police said.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Tucker, 30, of Palmetto, initially left the store without making a purchase after the argument, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said. However, shortly after, he returned with a gun.

“Tucker walked directly back to the cashier, pulled out a handgun and shot her,” Miles said in a news release. “Tucker then began shooting at a (DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office) deputy who was attempting to intervene while working off-duty at the supermarket. The deputy and Tucker exchanged gunfire, and both were wounded during the shootout.”

The deputy, 54-year-old Danny Jordan, was hit twice by gunfire. The bulletproof vest he was wearing saved his life, Sheriff Melody Maddox said in a news conference Monday.

Jordan was taken to Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, where he remained Tuesday morning, officials said.

Jordan is a retired DeKalb police officer working in the sheriff’s office reserve unit, agency spokeswoman Cynthia Williams said. He had been with the police department since 1998 before joining the reserve unit in March of this year.

Several other people were inside the store when the gunfire erupted, and a second cashier was grazed by a bullet, Miles said. According to the sheriff’s office, her injuries are not life-threatening.

When conflicts arise in the supermarket, Crawford said, the employees depend on a security guard to come to their aid. “They’re here to protect us, and they’ve done a wonderful job at doing it,” she said.

The entire ordeal is concerning to Crawford, who said she’s seen numerous news reports of people entering supermarkets with guns and opening fire on people inside.

“Something is happening,” she said. “I work for Kroger. You understand me? That could have been Kroger yesterday. It was Publix three or four weeks ago, and that was in Midtown. It’s right here at home. You can’t get no closer than that. It could have been any one of us.”

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Tucker, who was shot multiple times, was trying to crawl out of the supermarket’s front doors when he was stopped and arrested by two responding DeKalb police officers, Miles said. Upon his release from the hospital, Tucker will be booked into the DeKalb County Jail on counts of malice murder, aggravated assault on an officer and aggravated assault with intent to murder.

The fatal incident is not Tucker’s first encounter with the criminal justice system. DeKalb jail records indicate he has been arrested numerous times in the past decade on misdemeanor charges ranging from driving under the influence to family violence.

In May 2018, Tucker was arrested on multiple charges, including cruelty to children and battery related to family violence, DeKalb jail records show.

The details of the incident that led to those charges aren’t clear, but according to DeKalb court records, he was sentenced to two years on probation after pleading guilty to simple battery and battery. The third-degree cruelty to children charge was dismissed, along with one count of obstruction of law enforcement and one count of battery.

He was also ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, attend parenting classes and have no contact with the victims until those classes were complete.

In February of the previous year, he was arrested on a count of felony terroristic threats and acts, jail records show. Records indicate the case was dismissed.

On June 13, 2012, Tucker was arrested by DeKalb police on a misdemeanor count of battery, jail records show. According to court records, he was sentenced to a year on probation and six anger management classes, along with a fee.