Monday, October 08, 2007

It could have been you

Last Thursday afternoon, just after the lunch rush, a former staffer of a Moe’s Southwest Grill in Dilworth, N.C. decided to surprise his one-time colleagues. He walked into the burrito restaurant, pulled a gun, and shot operating partner Vinny Ferens and assistant manager Jeff Mahar. The police grabbed the 28-year-old gunman and learned he came to shoot up the unit, not to rob it. He’d been canned a few weeks earlier and had come back to exact revenge.

He succeeded in his quest; Ferens, 36, and Mahar, 34, both died from their injuries. The elder of the two left behind three children, ranging in age from eight years to six months. Mahar’s familial situation was not disclosed. He’d joined the crew just two months ago.

That account of the tragedy was provided to the media by Moe’s franchisor, Atlanta-based Focus Brands. Those of us with ink in our veins usually have to wheedle, cajole or feign a last request to get information from an organization that’s suffering through a nightmare of that magnitude. If the moon and stars are aligned, you might get the sparest of details. Focus is publicizing everything about the incident except the name of the employee-turned-accused-shooter (local news and police reports identified him as Derrick Lamont Gregory).

The reason for the company’s forthrightness is clear and commendable. It wants the industry to know what happened to two of its own because the pair’s successors may need help. Left unsaid is the trade’s willingness to aid the families within its ranks, regardless of whether they’re strangers or even affiliated with competitors. It’s something unique about the business that people in other fields probably can’t fathom. If you doubt it, ask someone in the grocery business if they’d ever help a counterpart limping through a crisis. They’ll probably take a swing at you.

Focus wants the business to know that it’s set up a fund to help the families of Ferens and Mahar with burial fees and other expenses. Contributions can be sent to the Moe’s Victims Memorial Fund, Wachovia Bank, 171 17 St., Mail Code GA4517, Atlanta, Ga. 30363.

Already, Moe’s management said in a statement, “the outpouring of sympathy and support that our customers have shown for these victims has been incredible.”

Hopefully Feren and Mahar’s professional peers will be even more generous.

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