Clerk blames firing on illegals debate

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DENVER — Not only did Bruno Kirchenwitz’s U.S. Border Patrol baseball cap help get him fired, it almost got him shot.

Mr. Kirchenwitz, 54, was dismissed from his part-time job at 7-Eleven in Basalt after he was threatened by two Hispanic men who are suspected of later pumping five bullets into the store.

Mr. Kirchenwitz, who left work less than an hour before the shooting, was terminated by Southland Corp., which owns the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, for violating the company’s “non-confrontation policy.”

He contends he was fired for his views on illegal immigration and seeks a lawyer to sue Southland on his behalf.

“I want to put the hurt on their pocketbook because that’s all they care about, apparently,” Mr. Kirchenwitz said.

The June 26 episode transformed him into a kind of folk hero on talk radio and within the secure-borders movement.

Mr. Kirchenwitz made a dozen appearances on KHOW-AM’s “The Peter Boyles Show” in Denver. His backers call for a boycott of 7-Eleven. He even has his own song, “Bruno’s Theme,” sung to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

Mr. Kirchenwitz wasn’t wearing his U.S. Border Patrol hat on the night of the shooting.

“I never wear that hat to work, but I ride the bus a lot, and people see me with it,” he said.

The men evidently recognized him. “These guys said, ‘You’re the guy who wears that hat, right?’ ” Mr. Kirchenwitz said. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ I thought they were joking at first, so I said, ‘If you like my hat, you’re going to love my T-shirt.’ ”

The shirt depicts a sombrero-wearing Hispanic and reads: “Jesus is my gardener.” At that point, he said, the conversation turned ugly as the men began to threaten him, asking him when he got off work and saying they would come back and beat him up.

When Mr. Kirchenwitz left work at 10:15 p.m., he tucked a knife into the sleeve of his jacket, just in case. Forty-five minutes later, someone fired five shots into the 7-Eleven window with an M-1 rifle.

No one was hurt, though there were several customers present, including a family with a child. Police issued an arrest warrant for one of the men, Richard Ramirez, an illegal alien who had been deported before by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda said the department identified the second man, who is living in Colorado legally, though no warrant is issued for his arrest.

Mr. Kirchenwitz said he was rattled by his close call with the shooting, but even more so when he received a call from 7-Eleven’s national headquarters.

“They said that because of an ‘egregious customer interaction,’ we’ve decided to terminate you,” he said. “My store manager didn’t even know. Now they’re saying I provoked retaliation that night.”

Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, said Mr. Kirchenwitz was fired for breaking company policy the night of the shooting, as well as for “other issues that we learned about as we were going through the process.”

“He violated 7-Eleven’s non-confrontation policy. He was trained in not confronting customers, in treating customers with respect,” Mrs. Chabris said. “It had nothing to do with the First Amendment or immigration or any of those things.”

Mr. Kirchenwitz insists he did nothing that night to antagonize the two men.

An immigrant himself — he moved here from Germany in 1954 — Mr. Kirchenwitz said the experience made him a man with a mission.

“This is going to be my new hobby from now on,” he said. “I’m going to see what I can do to send every single illegal alien back home.”

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