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Gateway mall shootings

Gunman kills two, self at Gateway mall

Police say they do not know why the St. Petersburg man opened fire in a RadioShack. Dead are a store employee, 19, and a customer, 23.

By JAMIE THOMPSON and CARRIE JOHNSON
Published November 19, 2004

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Gateway shooting map
Source: Inland Southeast Property Management Corp.
Times map – MICHAEL GUILLÉN
3 dead in store shooting
A man walked into a Radio Shack store at the Gateway Market Center about 6:46 p.m. Thursday and opened fire, shooting three people before turning the gun on himself.

ST. PETERSBURG - The 25-year-old St. Petersburg man arrived at RadioShack about 6:45 p.m. Thursday, the door beeping as he walked inside.

Justin M. Cudar quickly surveyed the two customers and three employees. And then, without saying a word, he pulled out a Glock .40-caliber handgun and began firing.

Bullets struck two employees and a customer, who collapsed on the floor. Another employee escaped, racing outside for help, police said.

Cudar then pointed the gun at his head, killing himself.

Sirens wailed across the Gateway Market Center as hundreds of customers gathered. Paramedics raced inside the store, loading victims onto gurneys.

One victim, 19-year-old employee Joanna Cruz, shouted, "Why, why?" before disappearing into an ambulance, witnesses said.

Two of the victims - Cruz and a customer, Kenneth Powell, 23, died during surgery at Bayfront Medical Center. The third victim, RadioShack employee James Dolan, 30, remained in critical condition early this morning.

"It looks like a very random, senseless killing," said Bill Proffitt, spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department. "We don't know what his motive was."

He said that Cudar appeared to have a history of mental illness, and that he had been in a road rage incident hours before walking into the RadioShack.

Grieving family members arrived at the hospital, several collapsing into tears on the sidewalk after learning their relatives had died.

"I feel like I'm dreaming," said 22-year-old Quanese Dorsey, Powell's ex-girlfriend. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Cudar's twin sister, Jessica Cudar, said late Thursday she was skeptical of the report from police.

"My brother is a genuinely good person," said Cudar, of Sarasota. "He has a good heart. I love him."

She said Justin was attending the University of South Florida and getting a degree in psychology.

The shooting occurred as hundreds of people shopped at the Gateway Market Center at 7951 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg.

Three employees and two customers were inside the Radio-Shack when Cudar arrived.

Cudar shot two employees and a customer before shooting himself, Proffitt said. Police did not know why Cudar left the other two alone.

The uninjured employee ran to the nearby Publix to call for help, Proffitt said.

Sara Go had just gotten out of her car when she saw a Hispanic woman wheeled out of RadioShack on a gurney.

"She was screaming, "Why? Why?"' Go said.

Jamie Schurga, 17, was standing at an ATM machine when she caught sight of the victims.

"I saw their feet moving, but that's it," she said. "I started crying because two women came running out of Publix. They knew two of the people who got shot, and they were just crying and praying."

Cruz, the 19-year-old employee, lived in the nearby Lakebrook Apartments with her mother for at least the last nine years, neighbors said. They described her as a sweet, quiet girl who graduated from Northeast High School in 2003.

"She's a lovely person," said Wilfredo Altiery, 56, who used to give Cruz rides to her RadioShack job. "Everyone likes her a lot. She works very hard."

Her father, Ramon Cruz, heard about the shooting on television and rushed to the hospital.

"She was just doing her job and this guy comes and starts shooting," Cruz said. "Right now I'm hurt. She's always been a good girl."

The customer, Powell, worked at the Gateway mall, a relative said, and had likely gone to the Radio-Shack to buy something.

"He's a quiet kid. He's a good kid," relative A.J. Murphy said. "You wouldn't know if he is in the room, he's so quiet."

Standing outside Bayfront, Powell's ex-girlfriend tried to cope with the tragedy. The couple's two children wrestled with one another on the sidewalk, too young to realize their dad had been shot to death.

The couple had been together about 3 years, Dorsey said, but recently had separated. They both worked at the Publix in the Gateway Market Center, where they met in 2002.

The first thing Quanese noticed about him was his smile, but added, "he had a good personality."

A native of Beaufort, N.C., Powell loved to play basketball and spend time with his kids, she said. He also followed football and his favorite team was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He had two sisters, one in St. Petersburg and one in North Carolina, and three brothers.

His uncle is Pastor Louis Murphy of the Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

"He certainly was never one to get in trouble," Murphy said. "He just was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

* * *

Times staff writers David Karp and Lauren Bayne Anderson contributed to this report. Jamie Thompson can be reached at 727893-8455. Send e-mail to jthompson@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 22, 2004, 10:26:35]


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