The owner of an Alabama jewelry store is being considered a hero after stopping a woman who was trying to rob his business while assaulting those inside by shooting her.

“I did what I had to do to protect my store and my employees,’’ said Jeff Dennis, owner of Jeff Dennis Jewelers in Gardendale, Alabama, told AL.com. “I had no idea what she was capable of.”

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Dennis said he saw the woman enter the store, wearing a face covering and wearing a coat.

“I’m always a little bit alert,’’ he said. “Even though we’re past COVID, there’s still a lot of people wearing masks."

The first thing the woman did after walking into the store, was bend down and put a block in the door to keep it from closing.

“I knew then what was happening,’’ Dennis said, “so I drew my weapon.”

The robber said to the store, “Happy holidays. I don’t want to hurt y’all, but I am.”

She then began to spray her bear spray at the employees. Bear spray is a powerful aerosol spray meant to be used to ward off grizzlies and black bears.

“I stepped around the corner and fired and hit her pretty good. I hit her in the shoulder. It was a significant injury," Dennis said. “I didn’t have any choice once she started spraying the bear spray because I didn’t know what was going to come next. I was in fight or flight mode, and I was trying to get the store secured because I didn’t know if she had other people with her."

After being shot, the woman began screaming, "Stop, stop. I don’t want to die. Please stop," before dropping her purse and fleeing the store.

“In her purse there were other things that she was going to use as part of the robbery,’’ he said. “She did have weapons.”

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Dennis hit the alarm button to secure the store, but the mace was already deployed.

“We were absolutely sick because we were gasping and couldn’t breathe, and I had to get everybody outside," Dennis told the outlet.

A massive search for the suspect began, with a helicopter supporting, drones, and tracking dogs all deployed.

Agencies assisting the Gardendale police included the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Birmingham police, Kimberly police, and Fultondale police.

The Gardendale Police Department said 32-year-old Heather Denise Wright was charged with three counts of first-degree robbery (no bond) and three count of criminal use of defense spray, each with a $15,000 bond.

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Gardendale Police Chief Scott Banks said that she was taken into custody within a couple of hours at an apartment in Birmingham. She was taken to UAB Hospital where she is undergoing treatment for her injuries.

Jeff Dennis Jewelers will reopen this Friday.

“If you’ve ever been around bear spray, it’s so toxic,’’ Dennis said. “Within seconds, we were burning, couldn’t hardly see, coughing. It’s still in here today and I had a professional cleanup crew come last night.”

An employee who was on the sales floor took the most of the spray, but insurance will cover the medical treatment and counseling needed.

This was the first attempt of a robbery that happened in the store.

“Some poor choices by somebody made me do something I hoped I’d never have to do,’’ he said, noting that he'd lost a lot of sleep over the shooting.

“It’s been an emotional thing,’’ he said. “I’m glad she didn’t die. I hope she can turn her life around.”

Read more at AL

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