Willie Bush, 25, barricaded himself in a stranger's apartment near Blake High School in Tampa.
TAMPA - Willie Bush, who told family and friends he would rather die than go back to prison, made good on that promise Friday.
After a brief shootout with Tampa police and a two-hour standoff, officers broke down the door to a Tampa apartment and found him, dressed in women's clothing, sprawled on the floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
He was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he died.
No police officers were injured in the encounter, which caused a lockdown at three nearby schools.
Bush, 25, who had a long criminal background, had been a suspect in several crimes this week.
"He said he would shoot an officer or be shot by an officer before he would go back to prison," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Police got a tip at about 3 p.m. Friday that Bush was in North Boulevard Apartments, a public housing complex just west of downtown and across the street from Blake High School. Bush did not live there, said Housing Authority spokeswoman Lillian Stringer.
Lakesha Stephens, 20, said she was in front of her home trying to fix a tire on her car when Bush approached her carrying a plastic bag. He was wearing black pants and a white T-shirt wrapped around his head.
He offered her money to drive him someplace, she said, and told her, "This is a bad day for your tire to be flat."
When he saw police coming, he ran into her apartment, Stephens said. She did not know Bush, she said.
He pulled a gun out of the waistband of his pants and shot at police once, McElroy said.
Police shot back once, McElroy said, then retreated and tried to coax Bush out of the apartment.
Police brought hostage negotiators, a SWAT team and an armored vehicle to the neighborhood. They closed the North Boulevard Bridge and sections of Spruce Street and evacuated the apartment building.
Students already had been dismissed from nearby Just Elementary and Stewart Middle schools, but police secured them, along with Blake High School, where students were just starting to leave when the shooting began.
Anna Smith, 17, a junior at Blake, said she was trying to exit the school's parking garage when a teacher knocked on her car window and said no one could leave.
"We all ran to the third floor of the parking garage and were looking over trying to figure out what was going on," Smith said.
Two students in an after-school program at nearby Stewart Middle School pressed their faces against the glass of a second-story window and watched the scene unfold.
While helicopters buzzed overhead and curious neighbors stared from a distance, a cool breeze carried the muffled sound of a police officer speaking into a megaphone.
After getting no response, police used a camera mounted on the end of a long pole to peek into a window, McElroy said. They saw Bush lying on the floor.
Police broke into the apartment and found Bush conscious, but with a gunshot wound to his head.
Stephens said police told her Bush was wearing a blue dress, but they cut it off him before carrying him out of her apartment on a stretcher.
"That wasn't even my dress," she said.
Jail records show Bush has been arrested several times in the past five years, on charges including grand theft of a motor vehicle, burglary and grand theft with a firearm. Bush also has served time in Florida state prison for grand theft and burglary charges.
Police suspected him in the robbery of seven stores and pawn shops in Tampa this week, and in dozens of other robberies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Police considered him very dangerous.
Bush had been becoming more aggressive in his robberies, McElroy said, threatening his victims with a gun. Some of the thefts were carried out using a green pickup that police believe he took during a carjacking in Hillsborough County earlier this month.
On Friday, Dwayne Walton, 30, who lives four doors down from Stephens' apartment, said he hit the floor when he heard shots.
Angie Allen, 24, said she was glad none of her neighbors got hurt. "I'm just glad it's over," she said. "Everybody can go to sleep tonight."
By 5 p.m., after most of the crime scene tape was gone, an ice cream truck cruised through the neighborhood, playing a lullaby.