Abdal Khan stepped outside of a Broadway Chevron gas station where he works for a smoke break.
In the predawn hours of a Monday morning, he didn’t see any danger in stepping out of his glass-lined booth for a few minutes.
As he went back inside, a man approached him from behind and put a gun to his head. He ordered Khan behind the counter.
“He pulled a gun on my head,” Khan said. “He hit me in my gut.” The man demanded whatever cash Khan had and then made him look away as he collected the money.
There was only one thought running through Khan’s head: “He’s going to kill me now.”
A shot never came, and the man, who had at least one other person with him, fled.
Khan is one of the latest people in Galveston to be a victim of a robbery. Since December, there have been 14 robberies in the city, according to the Galveston Police Department.
While police say there’s nothing definitive connecting the crimes, there have been some similarities — two or more masked men enter a building and demand cash; they act quickly and are out of the building within three or four minutes, before police can arrive.
The robberies have put people’s lives in danger. Last week, masked men fired two shots inside the La Michoacana Meat Market, 3301 Broadway, during a robbery just after 9 a.m.
The bullets left cracks in the plastic signs that display the market’s lunch menu, although no one was injured. That shooting prompted a manhunt in the streets around the store but resulted in no immediate arrests.
On Dec. 28, a woman was shot in the chest inside La Cazuela Cocina, 1508 39th St., during an afternoon robbery. She survived, and the next day police arrested two teenagers in connection with the robbery and shooting.
On Tuesday, police announced they had charged Rodrick Harbin Jr., 22, of Galveston, with aggravated robbery in connection with a December holdup at D’Ambra Meat Market & Grocery, 1728 Ave. N.
Investigators were looking for another man in connection with that robbery, and were pursuing leads in other recent robberies, police said.
Despite the frequency and similarities in the recent string of robberies, investigators don’t believe all were the work of the same people or group, said Galveston Police Department spokesman Xavier Hancock.
“At this point, there’s no connection between them,” Hancock said. “It may be that one spawns the next.”
Despite the spike, Hancock said there were fewer reported robberies in 2018 than there were in 2017.
In response to the robberies, the police department has increased the number of officers on street patrol in the hopes of deterring more people from preying on local businesses, Hancock said.
“We’re being more visible to hopefully prevent any more of these from happening,” Hancock said.
That’s a bit of a relief for store owners and employees who have been victimized in recent weeks and said the robberies were an unusual and worrying trend.
“The way it’s gone in the past two months, it’s unusual,” said Mohammad Ahan, the owner of Moe’s Corner Store, 1902 23rd St. “To me, it’s people that are out of Galveston that come, that do what they want to do and then quickly run to where you can’t catch them.”
The store, which has been open seven years, had never been robbed before two men masked men walked in on the evening of Jan. 2. Ahan’s brother was the only employee at the store at the time.
After other stores in Galveston were targeted, Ahan and his brother talked about what to do if armed robbers came into their store.
They agreed to do what the robbers said, let them take what they want and don’t put up a fight, he said. Better to lose money than to lose their lives, he said.
“Unfortunately, this is a bad thing for the image of the city,” Ahan said. “We’re OK physically, but it hurts.”