MIDDLETON — Stephen Cornell didn't think about his family or his job when he looked through the glass door at JC Grill & Pizza on Wednesday night and saw a man pointing a black handgun at the owner inside.
"I just reacted," said Cornell, 55, a regular customer at the convenience store. "I said, 'OK, I'll just wait,' and when he tries to come out of the store, I was going to jump him. He just came out so fast I tripped him, and he tripped me and I fell, and he fell."
Cornell, who has a prosthetic leg and recently underwent shoulder surgery, said he actually intended to tackle the suspect, not trip him.
"He stumbled and fell, and God, when I was on the ground I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, the next thing you know, he's going to shoot me.'"
In the meantime, convenience store owner Edson Andrade had come around the counter and ran outside to help.
The suspect, whom police identified as Eric F. Homen, 23, of 7 Raymond Circle, Peabody, got up and fled with the pistol, which turned out to be an air-powered pellet gun, police said.
"He was shooting, and he was firing the BB gun at (Andrade)," Cornell said.
Turning to shoot forced Homen to slow down, Cornell said, and Andrade, who was not hit by the pellets, tackled the suspect, pinning him in a headlock. Cornell stepped on Homen's legs, and the men took his gun and subdued him, Andrade said.
The suspect pleaded with his captors to let him go and gave back the money, $98, according to police.
"He had him in a chokehold all the way back to the store," Cornell said.
When police arrived, they found Andrade and Cornell on top of Homen. They arrested the suspect and charged him with armed robbery while masked and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Arraigned in Salem District Court yesterday, Homen pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.