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A 76-year-old convenience store clerk remains in critical condition at Parkland Memorial Hospital’s burn unit after she was set on fire during a robbery Sunday morning.
Police said Matthew Lee Johnson, 36, arrived at the Fina Whip-In at the corner of Broadway and Colonel Drive in Garland shortly after the store opened at 7 a.m. Sunday. Officers said he carried in a bottle of flammable liquid and used it douse the clerk and then set her on fire — after clearing out the cash register.
“It didn’t look like there was any resistance from her any time,” said Garland police spokesman Officer Joe Harn. “There’s no reason why you would set a 76-year-old woman on fire.”
Loyal customers were devastated and angry at the news. The clerk lived nearby and had been greeting customers from behind the counter for more than a decade.
“She was the sweetest lady on earth,” said customer Dereck Mugara, who said he visited with her at the store several times a week. “Always smiling. Always loving — she was just happy to be here.”
Friends said the clerk — whom News 8 is not naming since police have not officially released her identification — has three children and at least three great-grandchildren.
Since her husband passed away years ago, she now lives alone in a simple, well-kept home a few blocks from the convenience store where she worked.
“Never seen her mad; never seen her raise her voice,” said neighbor Jimmy Bertucci. “It’s devastating. There’s no amount of money he could have gotten that would replace what he did.”
Customers said the woman loves greeting her customers and could always be seen at work — unless the Dallas Cowboys were playing. Then, friends say, she would take time off to cheer on her team.
“She’s a huge Cowboys fan,” said neighbor Derek White. “During the season, she puts a Cowboys banner in her yard.”
Now, police say, she clings to life with serious burns over 40 percent of her body.
Moments after she was ignited, passing police officers happened to spot the fire inside the store. As they pulled into the parking lot, she staggered out of the store — the upper half of her body ablaze.
Harn described it as one of the most haunting scenes his officers had ever seen.
“They see a lady completely engulfed in flames in her upper torso,” Harn said. “Torso, head, face — everything was on fire. It’s one of the most horrible crimes that we see.”
An officer used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. The clerk was able to briefly describe the suspect before paramedics rushed her to the hospital.
Police said detectives have not yet been able to speak to her because of the severity of her injuries.
“We’re in hopes she will make it,” Harn said.
After setting the clerk on fire, police said the suspect ran to a nearby neighborhood and tried to break into several homes. Officers said Johnson allegedly robbed one man nearby, but police arrested him a short time later.
He now faces charges of attempted capital murder and robbery.
Friends are praying the store clerk will recover.
“When you meet somebody that’s happy with life or that’s happy to be living, it rubs off on you — she had that in her," Mugara said.
THIS HAS TO END. NOW.
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