While dozens of people dined on fried chicken and Southern vegetables, Billy Harrell was staring down the barrel of a gun.
The 66-year-old manager of the Ole Times Country Buffet in Dublin had noticed two men walking down the sidewalk as he went to his SUV in the parking lot about 7:30 p.m. Friday.
One of them walked up with a gun and demanded Harrell’s money.
When the Telfair County resident said he didn’t have any, the gunman made him sit in the vehicle as the robber rifled through the console and glove compartment.
The robber grabbed a pistol and some other items from the vehicle and started to leave.
When he turned back around with his gun pointed, Harrell fired a shot from another weapon he had concealed in the car, hitting 21-year-old Devin Wilbert.
“He’s done a good thing,” Harrell’s hometown sheriff, Chris Steverson, said.
Down the road, Dublin police quickly arrested Wilbert’s alleged accomplice, 22-year-old Quantavis Jones, who was wearing clothes that matched surveillance images.
Investigators had to take both of Harrell’s guns as evidence, which prompted the sheriff to post Harrell’s plight on Facebook.
“At some point during the terrifying encounter, the manager decided that he would not go down without a fight and produced his own weapon and began firing at the two thugs who I’m sure began screaming like a couple of prepubescent little girls as they fled, desperately hoping to escape the hot lead being directed towards them by their former ‘victim,’ ” Steverson wrote.
“I commend him for having his own personal protection, and for being prepared to use it, most likely saving his own life as he faced death from those two sacks of human waste,” Steverson posted. “A hard working, law abiding restaurant manager, tasked with closing up at the end of a long day, just wanting to go home to his family after work, has now been disarmed and left without any personal protection.”
Local gun sellers Chris Ellis and Lamar Marshall stepped in.
“There’s nothing I hate worse than a thief,” said Ellis, who co-owns CL Defense in McRae with Marshall. “These guys could have very well killed this man.”
Although Harrell will eventually get his guns back, the shop owners decided to give Harrell a new Smith & Wesson .38 Special worth about $400.
Since he was already a licensed gun holder, they signed it over to him Wednesday at the store, dubbed “The Best Little Gun Shop in Georgia.”
“He was very appreciative. He couldn’t believe we were doing that,” Ellis said. “We’re strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and we just wanted to help.”
The night of the robbery, police arrested Wilbert, who showed up with a gunshot wound at Fairview Park Hospital, said Dublin detective Sgt. John Knight.
Both Wilbert and Jones face armed robbery and aggravated assault charges. They are also accused of another stickup Jan. 11 in which the Flash Foods was robbed on U.S. 441 South. After their arrest in Harrell’s holdup, detectives recognized them from the convenience store cameras.
“People are getting mighty bold,” Knight said. “We live in a dangerous society today.”
Ellis, the Telfair County Middle School principal who runs the gun shop part time, agreed.
“The world is a dangerous place, and I think it’s getting worse by the day,” he said.
Steverson said he is encouraged by the response he’s gotten to his second Facebook post announcing that Harrell now has a new gun.
Nearly 32,000 people saw it in a matter of hours, and 251 people shared it.
“Everybody wants to see the little guy win in the end,” Steverson said. “So when he gets a shot off at the bad guys and hits one, everybody gives a high five.”