Pastor's wife shoots would-be robber in Northeast Philly

Robert Cook, pastor at St. James Lutheran Church, said he and his wife and son were returning from a concert at another church in Bucks County on Thursday when an armed robber demanded his wallet.

Robert Cook knows trouble when he sees it.

He's now a pastor of a Northeast Philadelphia church and father of seven, but in a previous life he had been arrested 17 times before he turned 18.

"I sold drugs, I stole cars, I robbed people," he said.

That was before he made a promise to serve God for the rest of his life if his mother survived a heart attack. Cook recounted his story Friday over coffee in the living room of the St. James Lutheran Church rectory, less than 12 hours after he and his family survived a violent encounter more befitting of that past life. 

A robber had held Cook up at gunpoint, and as Cook tried to wrestle the man's shotgun away, his wife Stephanie shot the assailant in the leg.

The incident unfolded shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday on the 1000 block of Pratt Street in Frankford, as the couple and their 12-year-old son returned from a concert at a Bensalem church.

Robert Cook saw an older man hunched over, holding what looked like an umbrella and walking with a shuffle. He and his son had just exited the car, and Cook was on the phone with his mother. Stephanie was still in the car gathering up her things.

"He looked small and vulnerable," Cook thought as he nodded to the man and made his way up the three-step side porch.

"Yo, yo, yo," the man said progressively louder to Cook.

"I turned around and there was a shotgun in my face," Robert Cook said. His son was in shock, standing side-by-side to the robber. The boy was afraid that if he moved, the man would shoot his father, he later told his parents.

Cook, who had been held up at gunpoint once before, realized the assailant was not wearing a mask and thought they might be killed because they would be able to identify him.

When the man demanded his wallet, Cook decided to stall, hoping time was on his side.

His wife was just exiting the car and Cook knew she had a Ruger 22 in her purse.

The man became enraged and lunged for Cook's wallet.

Cook, hoping his son would run to safety, grabbed the gun with both hands and the men began to wrestle for control of the weapon.

The boy stood frozen in place.

When the gun aimed in the boy's direction, Cook let go.

"I don't want to lose another son," he thought. His 19-year-old Robbie had committed suicide eight months ago.

"Run, run," Cook yelled at his son.

"That's when he hit me with the gun," Cook said,  pointing to a lump behind his left ear. He heard a sharp crack, felt pain, saw white-like light and his ears began to ring.

"Drop the gun, drop the gun," yelled Stephanie Cook, pointing her handgun in the direction of the assailant.

"I was afraid he was going to kill my husband and son," Stephanie Cook said. At first, she didn't shoot because the attacker was too close to them.

"Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him," her husband screamed. The man began to turn the weapon in his wife's direction.

She pulled the trigger.

"I didn't want him to die, as crazy as that sounds," she said. She had aimed at his waist. "I just wanted him to drop the gun."

Stephanie Cook fired one round, striking the assailant in the leg, before the gun jammed. The robber turned and quickly limped away in the direction of Oxford Street, leaving behind the Eagles cap he was wearing.

Robert Cook took her gun, cleared the jam and followed after the man to make sure he dropped his weapon.

Stephanie Cook called 911.

"I just wanted my wallet back," Robert Cook said. "No one wants to go to the DMV if you don't have to."

The suspect, who had dropped his firearm and the wallet near the church, yelled as if the pastor had tried to rob and shoot him, prompting neighbors to also call 911.

The assailant tried to get in passing cars, ultimately jumping on the running board of an SUV.

"Straight out the movies," Cook said.

Robert Cook said he started to feel dizzy and sat down on the curb. He tried to flag down one of the many police cars that whizzed by before one slammed on its breaks. Police had his description from 911 callers as the robber, they later told him.

Robert Cook put his gun on the street, got on his knees and raised his hands in the air.

"I've been robbed, my wife shot the guy," he told approaching officers. The suspect was apprehended nearby a few minutes later, police said. He was taken to Aria-Frankford Hospital, where he is listed in stable condition. The "shotgun" he was carrying turned out to be a Black Ramset nail gun modified to look like a firearm, with the orange handle wrapped in black electrical tape.

When Robert Cook arrived home, police had cordoned off the house as a crime scene. Paramedics arrived and urged him to go to the hospital, but Cook declined the ambulance ride.

"I'm not going to pay $3,000 to go six blocks," he said. The couple said they both bought guns for self-defense. Robert Cook had left his Glock 44 at home that night.

"We both have concealed carry permits because we live in a crazy world and people put shotguns in your face," the pastor said.

The incident remains under investigation and the would-be robber has not been identified or charged yet.

The Cooks said they will forgive him.

"It would be nice if he found Jesus," Robert Cook said. "But I think he belongs in jail and he can find Jesus there."

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