Bullets bring a vigil and a shock

A stakeout by Pinellas deputies after months of shootings into a home ends with the arrest of an 84-year-old neighbor.

Published August 17, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Don Keehn wanted his money.

He tried the nice-guy approach at first, friends say, asking his neighbor at Silver Lake Mobile Home Resort to make good on a loan.

When that didn't work, he got a judge to order Virginia "Missy" Prittslawton to repay more than $4,000. Even that failed.

The quiet, well-kept community was in disbelief Tuesday over what happened next.

The 84-year-old Keehn got a pistol, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said, and fired at Prittslawton's home - seven different times over the past five months.

No one was injured in the shootings, but investigators say numerous bullets penetrated the residence. Prittslawton, 66, was home during at least some of the attacks.

Early Tuesday, deputies staked out her house.

They say Keehn slowly rolled up in a silver Mercury Grand Marquis, pointed a handgun out the window and fired at least one shot, hitting the front of Prittslawton's mobile home.

Then just as slowly - never exceeding the 15 mph speed limit - he rolled away. He was arrested a short time later without incident.

Now the elderly man who lived alone and has no prior criminal history in Florida faces charges of attempted murder, shooting into an occupied dwelling and aggravated stalking.

Prittslawton wasn't home Tuesday afternoon and did not return a message left on her answering machine. Keehn's family members also did not return calls.

"I'm shocked. I'm totally shocked. He was a nice man, very quiet and polite," said Keehn's neighbor, Carol Russell.

"I can't understand this at all," said another neighbor, Ray Parker. "It's unbelievable."

Jack Mizell, 63, went on a bicycle ride every day with Keehn. Though Keehn was initially upset over the loan, he seemed to have relaxed in recent months, Mizell said.

"He acted like he was getting laid back about it. He hadn't really been talking about it. That's why I'm so surprised that something like this happened."

Keehn and Prittslawton were once friends, said others at the mobile home park off 24th Street N near Interstate 275. He and his now-deceased girlfriend watched over Prittslawton's dog, Tilly, while she went to her nursing job at a local hospital. Keehn took Tilly to the vet and to a groomer, even carrying the animal in the basket of his bicycle. "He treated the dog as his own," Mizell said.

In June 2002, Keehn wrote his first check to Prittslawton, giving her $1,000. Other checks followed. But the promised repayments never came, according to records.

It was unclear Tuesday why she needed the money.

In December 2003, a judge ruled that Prittslawton must pay him $4,300 plus $215 in interest in monthly installments of $500. Prittslawton signed off on the arrangement.

Neighbors describe her as kind and respectful. "She's a sweetheart," said Norma Metzgar, 54. "I don't know why anybody would want to hurt her."

But court records say Prittslawton is also a felon who served nearly four years of an eight-year prison sentence for theft in Arizona. Prittslawton also has arrests in Texas and Florida on charges of forgery and fraud. Her most recent arrest came in 2004, when Sam's Club said she passed a bad check.

Deputies say the first shooting came March 11. In another instance on June 10, three bullets entered the home and went through a couch.

"I had to replace three of her windows," said Rick Lego, the park manager. Metzgar said a bullet shattered her friend's car window and lodged in the passenger side headrest - not far from where Prittslawton buckled in Tilly.

"I'd ask her, "Okay, Missy, did you get shot at again?' " Metzgar said. "It got to the point where she didn't know if it was safe to walk in her living room."

On some occasions, Metzgar added, Prittslawton spent the night with a friend.

Only recently did deputies begin to home in on Keehn as a suspect. But "we didn't have concrete evidence at that point," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jim Bordner said, and no arrest was made.

A tactical team began to watch Prittslawton's home. About 2 a.m. Tuesday, the stakeout paid off. While deputies did not see Keehn fire a shot, they heard the firearm discharge and quickly responded.

Keehn did not put up a struggle, and deputies found a semiautomatic pistol in his car. He was being held Tuesday in County Jail in lieu of $130,000 bail.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.