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Kindly woman, 82, attacked in home

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

TAMPA -- Jewel Prater has long been the neighborhood's grandmother.

The 82-year-old brings flowers to one new homeowner on her block. She sends Christmas cards to another. She takes in any stray cat, dog or person who needs help.

Neighbors say it may have been Prater's kindness that led to her brutal beating Wednesday morning.

Prater, a retired schoolteacher who lives alone, woke at about 3 a.m. when she heard a noise, police said.

It wasn't the first trouble at her south Seminole Heights bungalow: Her car was broken into in January and her home was robbed in December.

This time, she thought she was prepared. She armed herself with a .32-caliber pistol and confronted a large man in her living room.

The man hit her over the head with a crowbar. Prater fell, police said, and the man continued to beat her.

He took Prater's gun out of her hand and rummaged through her house.

Bloody and bruised, Prater crawled out her front door, down her steps and across the street to a neighbor's house.

She urged her neighbor not to turn on his light, for fear the attacker would come looking for her.

Her neighbor called police, and Prater was rushed to Tampa General Hospital. She was in stable condition late Wednesday.

Her attacker is still on the loose.

Police have not been able to interview Prater because she is still in the hospital and under sedation for treatment of a broken pelvis and a fractured skull.

Neighbors fear the attacker may be someone known to Prater; she sometimes took in homeless and needy people and allowed them to stay in a garage apartment.

"People took advantage of her," said Jeanette Edson, a neighbor. "I thought the people that robbed her before were people she took in."

Prater has lived in the home for more than 50 years, neighbors said, but was thinking of moving in with her daughter because the neighborhood was becoming dangerous.

On Wednesday, her white Subaru was parked in the driveway, and a rust-colored cat slept on a pile of leaves nearby. Her front yard is covered in lush ferns, trees and shrubs. A U.S. flag and a banner of a smiling cat hang from poles.

Prater taught optometry at Brewster and Erwin Technical Schools for 20 years before retiring. At the school, she ran an innovative program that allowed students to repair eyeglasses and grind lenses for needy people in the community.

"If she was guilty of anything, it was that she was too good," said neighbor Mike Edson, 24, who has known Prater his entire life. "She was too kind-hearted."

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