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Phoenix Circle K hostage hero: "I wasn't going to die that day"

Posted at 9:56 PM, Aug 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-03 01:27:08-04

PHOENIX — Dramatic new video reveals what happened inside a Circle K when a man shot and killed a customer, took eight others hostage, and was later disarmed by those customers before being shot by SWAT officers.

ABC15 was the first to report the new surveillance video. After the story aired, millions saw the hostages take down the shooter.

The attack, though, all started with one father who decided to fight back.

"What a day man."

Armando Martinez was a construction worker, who worked across the street from the Circle K at 19th Avenue and Grant Street near downtown Phoenix. May 9th, 2018, was supposed to be like every other Wednesday.

"I was getting a drink with one of my coworkers," said Martinez.

At that moment, Efran Hernandez was waiting in line at the cash register. The 24-year-old father was ambushed from behind and shot in the back of the head.

Police and surveillance video point to Joel McClain Carson as the shooter. He told officers and customers that he was hoping to die, and apparently planned on suicide by cop.

"I didn't know it was a gunshot at the time," said Martinez.

Martinez quickly found out, when Carson pointed a gun at him and told the father and his co-worker to go to the corner with the other hostages.

Carson then forced an employee to lock the front doors and barricaded it with a donut display.

"My only thought [was] how am I going to get out of here? I'm going to get out of here one way or another," said Martinez, recalling the frantic moments.

"I wasn’t going to die that day."

The hostages were all ordered into a corner.

"A lot of them were crying; they were emotional. A few of the guys they didn’t speak English," said Martinez.

While they were huddled up, Carson allegedly tried to shoot another customer in the back of the convenience store.

"The other guy he tried to shoot was face down," he said. "I heard the gun jam, and that's when I told my coworker, I'm like 'Hey, it just jammed!'"

After the misfire, Carson fiddled with his revolver. At one point, he was even pointing the gun at himself to look down the barrel. As the shooter contemplated his next move, so did Martinez.

"There is no way in hell I was going to die that day," Martinez said.

So Martinez decided to fight and charged at Carson as he approached with a large soda.

"He raised the gun and said, 'Don't try to be a hero,' and that's when I grabbed it," he said.

Martinez is five feet, five inches, and was about to fight with a man who was easily 250 pounds and had a loaded revolver.

"They all chose to help me."

The initial attack caught the much larger Carson off guard.

"I used my momentum to push him back and get him to the ground," Martinez explained.

When the two men fell to the floor, they began wrestling for the revolver.

"I knew the gun was pointed at me; it was pointed at him. So I pulled the trigger," said Martinez. "I pulled the trigger four times... and I was yelling for my co-worker to come to help me."

The gun jammed again, but the reinforcements came.

"At that point, it was do what you want, either get out of here or you help me. And they all chose to help me. Got a lot of respect for them for that," said Martinez.

"I have nightmares about it all the time."

Martinez had not seen the video until this week.

"Everything just came back, man. I mean, it brought me to tears," he said.

While he is proud of how he fought back with other customers, it was not a happy day.

"One person had to die for all of that, and I always regret that," said Martinez. "I wish there something I could’ve done to change the situation."

After the beatdown, all the hostages ran outside, leaving Carson and Hernandez in the Circle K.

Carson, while bruised, waited out the time smoking cigarettes and drinking. Hernandez meanwhile, was bleeding out on the floor.

"Maybe I could’ve, we could’ve, pulled [Hernandez} out or maybe pulled [Carson] out. So the cops can get in there, and he didn’t have that standoff," said Martinez. "Maybe his life could’ve been saved. I always think about that. I’ve put that on my shoulders for a long time," Martinez said.

Martinez dwells on what he did not do, but the seven other hostages remember him for the action he took to get them all out alive.

After he ran out of the store, Martinez threw the gun and immediately got on the ground, so officers would not think he was the suspect. Police had him DNA tested the next day because the gun had his blood on it.

The move was likely in anticipation of Carson's murder trial, which has still not started more than a year later.

Martinez told ABC15 he gets letters about all of the suspect's upcoming court dates, and he hopes to see justice served for Efran Hernandez's family.