"They took him away."
A Goldsboro Family Dollar employee who was an Air Force veteran is being mourned by his family, friends and the community. He died after being shot during a robbery Sunday afternoon while working at the store, police confirm.
Police said officers responded to calls about an armed robbery and a person shot just after 3 p.m. at the Family Dollar on Wayne Memorial Drive. When officers arrived they found Alexander Thomas, 46, behind a register with a gunshot wound to his chest.
"He served his country and made it back."
Thomas was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries.
"It's unreal. I don't believe it. It still feels like a nightmare," said Terra Althoff, Thomas's girlfriend.
Suspects Aaron Coppedge, 24, and Yiheim Quishown Fryar, 20, were found not too far from the store and taken into custody, a news release from the police department says.
"They took him away. He was not ready to (die). He had so much to live for. He had so much going on in his life and it's not fair," Althoff said.
Althoff had spoken to Thomas earlier in the day and was notified by a former co-worker about what happened. She rushed to the hospital with one of her daughters, where they were able to say their final goodbyes.
"He's the strongest person that I know, and he is so positive and charming. He just has this magnetic personality. You can't help but be drawn to him. He's so cool and easygoing and funny. My favorite thing is that he's just strong. And whenever I need to lean my head and he's there, he's my rock, and he's the strong one," said Althoff.
"He also gave the best advice in situations when I was nervous. I had always had anxiety. He would always just help me get through and just talk to you about it and make sure I felt safe," said Althoff's daughter Heidi, who remembered his confidence.
"He was a very positive man. If something was wrong, he wouldn't show it himself. But he would be there for other people. He's very positive, and he always knows how to be fun," added Molly, Althoff's older daughter.
Thomas also had a son and a father, who was a reverend.
Althoff shared that Thomas had served twelve years in the Air Force, which included several deployments. When he left the service, he suffered from PTSD.
"I think working for Family Dollar helped change his life around and gave him something more to strive for. He became a store manager, and he worked so hard," said Althoff.
The Family Dollar location was closed Monday, with a ribbon on one door, and crosses with flowers on both the entrance and exit. A Goldsboro Police vehicle was in the parking lot for part of the morning, and workers were seen inside the store.
In a statement, a Family Dollar spokesperson wrote: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident that occurred at our Wayne Memorial Drive Family Dollar in Goldsboro this weekend. We will continue to cooperate fully with local authorities on their investigation. As always, we are committed to ensuring a safe environment for our associates and customers. Out of respect for the family's privacy, no further comment will be offered at this time."
Customers came to the store throughout the day, largely unaware of what unfolded a day earlier.
"This is a community. I'm not going to stand by for it. And I hope no one else does," said Tecia Cameron, who stopped by Monday morning.
Cameron said she was "appalled" upon learning what happened.
"I don't think it's fair that he had to work so hard to get to where he is for someone who doesn't have (anything) to come after him. It's not fair, it's not right," said Cameron.
"This has to be the number one priority over everything. I know people are looking at business development and all these other things, but all those things won't happen until you make this area safe. And right now, it's just it's not safe," added Mark Colebrook, a community advocate who founded Operation Unite Goldsboro.
Colebrook supported hiring more police officers, community efforts to connect with youth, and highlighting pathways to work for adults, in an effort to reduce crime in the city. A fellow Air Force veteran, he discussed their shared service in light of Sunday's shooting.
"It draws me closer even more. I mean, he served his country and made it back. Today is Memorial Day where we honor those that did not make it back. And to be killed, just trying to earn an honest living is just senseless," Colebrook said.
Funeral arrangements have not been determined at this time.
"He would just want us to not grieve. He would want us to be happy and keep going in life, and not let this be something that holds us back. He would just want us to be successful and keep going. He was always just so happy," said Heidi.
The two suspects, Fryar and Coppedge are each charged with one count of armed robbery and an open count of murder. They are being held at the Wayne County Detention Center without a bond.
The case is still under investigation, Goldsboro police said.