"I told them there wasn't any money. 'Take your gun, put it in your pocket, and go home.' They had a chance to leave," Augusto said.Typically, the relatives of the thugs defended their scumbag kin and threw out the usual crap about how they were good guys who were just getting ready to turn their lives around.
But they didn't listen.
So Augusto, 72 -- known to most as "Gus" -- channeled his inner Dirty Harry and pulled out the Remington shotgun he had hidden under his desk for 20 years. He opened fire three times, peppering all four men with buckshot.
"I did what I had to do," he said. "It wasn't my choice; it was their choice."
The wounded men tried to run but didn't make it far.
The man armed with the pistol, 29-year-old James Morgan -- who had a long rap sheet with nine prior arrests -- took the first shot directly to his face and made it only as far as the shop door before crumpling dead to the ground.
A second man, Raylin Footman, 21 -- who had a prior arrest for robbery and a relative who was a cop -- made it across 125th Street before collapsing. He'd died by the time he was taken to a hospital.
The other two, Bernard Witherspoon and Shamel McCloud, both 21, were picked up by police nearby and taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. They are expected to survive. Both are to be arraigned today on robbery charges.
"I had to shoot them. It was a tough thing to do," he said. "I have to live with that. I'm sad that there are mothers and fathers who lost sons."
But Augusto's beaten employee -- who would only give his name as J.B. -- had little sympathy.
"S- - - went real bad for them, not for me," he said. "I'm breathing. They dead."
The 35-year-old had nothing but praise for his boss.
"I know Gus is a good dude. He's looked out for me since I was 19," he said. "He saved my life, man."
Augusto said: "I don't feel like a hero. I would have felt like a hero if I'd talked that kid down and into going home."
It wasn't the first time lowlifes had tried to rob Augusto. After a robbery 20 years ago, he bought the pump-action shotgun and stuck it under his desk. Until Thursday, he'd never had to use it.
"I hadn't touched it all this time. I didn't even know if it would work," he said. "I never fired it all this time."
But he left it loaded, just in case.
"If every single citizen were allowed to hold a gun, there would be less carjackings and robberies," he said.
The Coast Guard vet, who was born in Yonkers and lives with his wife of 48 years in Irvington, Westchester County, said he had been selling commercial kitchen equipment for nearly 50 years and had no intention of quitting.
"What's the worst they could do? Shoot me? I guess so. I'm not going to lay down and die. I'm just not going to," he said.
Augusto and his employees tried to get back to business as usual yesterday, although it wasn't easy. When a woman came to place a candle outside the shop, J.B. angrily kicked it across the pavement.
"Who's this for?" he demanded of the startled woman. "For the guy who died? F- - - him!"
Morgan's mother insisted Friday, "He was a good man and a wonderful son" who worked as a construction worker.I'm sure that they were all just about to get jobs, go back and finish school, and start taking responsibility for all their little illegitimate kids, too. Is there some script that thug families are given to read from whenever one of them gets shot by the police or an intended victim? I have to ask, because they all spew the same crap. Just once I'd like some variety--maybe a mom who talks about how her son was all set to start drug-dealing once he'd made enough money from robberies to be able to afford some dope. I mean, a little honesty would be refreshing if nothing else.
"He didn't have to shoot him in the back," said the mom, who declined to give her name. "It was a homicide. It was murder. It's on his conscience."
The brother of the other dead man said Footmon was "a decent man."
"He was a good man. He was loved and he loved a lot of people," said the man who refused to give his name.
At McCloud's home, a family friend insisted he was no thug and said he was planning to attend college in the fall. He said he didn't know how McCloud hooked up with the Harlem guys and then shut the door.
But as it is, all's well. The good guys all went home, and the air is a little fresher in New York now that there are two less scumbags breathing it. The only thing that would have made this better would have been a perfect score of four in the dirt. But I'm betting that when they get out of prison, the two surviving cretins think long and hard before walking into another place of business and trying to take stuff that other men actually worked to earn.