An Oakland County man and a female accomplice are being held by authorities in Ohio in connection with the shootout that took the life of a party store owner in Clinton Township, police said Saturday.
Clinton Township police said the Oak Park man suspected of killing Bernie’s Market owner Emil Salem is in a hospital with two gunshot wounds. The female allegedly drove him to Ohio after the shooting, according to police.
“We wanted to get closure for the family and that’s the first thing I did today was notify them,” said Detective Capt. Richard Maierle.
The suspect, who police say was injured in a shootout Thursday night with the store owner, is being held at an undisclosed hospital on an arrest warrant from the Michigan Department of Corrections as a parole absconder. He was struck in the face and foot, but his injuries are not considered to be life-threatening.
Police have not released the name of the suspect, who was on parole for an armed robbery. He resides in Oakland County but has family in Detroit and Clinton Township.
Investigators are still trying to determine what role the woman had. Police say it’s not clear if she was involved in the robbery attempt or was the person who drove the suspected shooter to the Toledo area.
Rob Shabba, the victim’s brother-in-law, said the family is waiting until the suspect is formally charged before commenting.
“It’s a very positive sign,” Shabba said Saturday afternoon. “We are just very grateful to all of the police officers who have been working on this.”
Salem, 50, of Shelby Township, who moved to the United States from Iraq to raise a family, was killed after exchanging gunfire with a masked gunman who was trying to rob him just before closing time. His 16-year-old son was in the office, but was not harmed.
After watching a surveillance video of the incident, police said the gunman entered the store on Garfield Road near 17 Mile Road about 11:30 p.m., waiving a handgun. He ran right past Salem, who was behind the counter and seemed to be heading to a back room.
Salem, who had been robbed before and stored a firearm behind the counter, pulled his weapon in self defense from behind the counter. Investigators can’t say for sure who fired first, but Salem was struck in the head.
“Emil’s son was in office and he heard ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and then a thud,” Maierle said. “We think the gunman fell against something during the shootout, and then he ran out of there. The son didn’t see anything.”
Police said the gunman was bleeding profusely as he fled. A trail of blood led out of the store and toward an apartment complex behind the store, where police believe the gunman got into a car.
Police say it appears the gunman may have sought medical treatment from friends as he was afraid to enter a Detroit-area hospital as he knew local medical facilities had been alerted by police. That’s when he headed south.
Police from a department in northern Ohio were notified Friday evening about a man seeking medical treatment at an area hospital for two gunshot wounds.
The man told officers he had been attacked in a robbery in Ohio, but police were suspicious of his story and conducted an Internet search, where they soon found details of the Clinton Township incident. They then notified Clinton Township police.
Clinton Township detectives met Saturday with Macomb County prosecutors on arrest warrants and extradition proceedings. The department of corrections is expected to transport the suspect back to Michigan at the start of next week.
A steady stream of visitors stopped by Bernie’s Market on Saturday afternoon. Many dropped off floral bouquets, cards, stuffed dolls, candles and notes of thanks and sympathy.
They spoke of Salem’s kindness and generosity, an owner who routinely gave credit to cash-strapped customers, knowing that some of them wouldn’t be able to pay him back.
“I feel so bad for his family,” said Susanne Wickstrom, who lives a few blocks from the store. “I feel we really need to start taking care of each other because this hit very close to home.”
Jim Kardoosh of Chesterfield Township, who knew Salem through his employment with Randazzo Fresh Market, also brought flowers.
“It hit me hard,” he said. “I don’t think any of us can understand it. Emil was the nicest guy in the world and certainly didn’t deserve this.”
The store will remain closed at least through the next few days as the family tries to deal with the tragedy, Shabba said.
“I think most people will remember Emil for putting his customers before his business. He worked very hard, was very generous, but the most important thing in the world to him was his family,” Shabba said.
Salem is survived by his wife, Rafida; children, Aaron, Natalia, Christian and Cameron; parents, Antoine and Friza Salem; and other relatives.
Visitation will be 4-9 p.m. Sunday at Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons, 36900 Schoenherr, Sterling Heights. A funeral service will be held at noon Monday at Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church, 25585 Berg Road, Southfield.
Word of a pending arrest came on the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of another party store owner in Clinton Township.
Basim “Basil” Sulaka, 51, was killed during a robbery at the Moon Lite Party Store on Harper Avenue near 14 Mile Road. Four suspects were arrested six weeks after the shooting. The trial for the first suspect began this past week.
On Saturday evening, friends and supporters of Sulaka gathered for a memorial celebration at the Detroit Pub, located across the street from the party store. They planned to hold a candlelight vigil later in the night, around the time Sulaka was gunned down, said pub owner Paul Mauk.
Previous events raised thousands of dollars for the Sulaka family. Proceeds from Saturday’s event were also being donated to the family.
“We’re just trying to keep his memory alive,” Mauk said. “A lot of my customers were his customers, we’re all part of this community.’
Over the past five years, at least one dozen small business owners have been murdered in party stores and gas stations in the metropolitan Detroit area, according to the Association of Food and Petroleum Dealers, a Michigan-based trade association representing thousands of independent retailers in Michigan and Ohio.
The shooting at Bernie’s Market is a “reminder of how dangerous the business has become,” the group said in a news release. Association president Auday Arabo said stores should be equipped with interior and exterior security cameras. He said store clerks are not trained to fight off an attack and are caught by surprise, so they have little chance to fight back.
“It is also imperative that every city has a significant police presence and well-funded department,” Arabo said in the release. “It has been proven that police visibility in and around businesses are crime deterrents.”
A memorial account has been established for the Salem family. Donations may be made at gofundme.com/q5bfts.