Friends fear for missing store owner

Customers and friends say he wouldn’t walk away from a successful convenience store. But authorities think he left to meet a girlfriend.

Published August 19, 2006

BRANDON — Ramiz Abed didn’t just run a convenience store. He was something of a community icon.

He would let someone take a gallon of milk or a pack of cigarettes and pay for it later. Neighbors would visit his Parsons Road BP station to joke and gossip when he was working.

“This ain’t your typical convenience store,” said Pat McCrae , a longtime customer and friend.

The affection people feel for Abed has turned to concern lately, after he just disappeared. They want to know what happened to him.

“There’s a 99.9 percent chance he didn’t just walk away,” said McCrae.

But that’s exactly what authorities think Abed did.

Hillsborough sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said detectives think Abed ran off to meet a girlfriend, although the case is still under investigation.

“We don’t believe there is anything suspicious about his disappearance,” Carter said. “He turned the business back over to his parents a couple of weeks ago, and he apparently had a girlfriend whom his parents weren’t aware of. The parents just don’t want to believe it.”

That seems doubtful, said many of Abed’s closest friends.

Stephanie Luke , who considers herself a best friend and who created a MySpace Internet page to find him, said Abed had lots of girlfriends but none he cared about enough to throw away his business and worry his friends and family.

There was one particular woman in Nevada whom Abed was talking to, Luke said, but friends had recently been in touch with that woman and she hadn’t heard from Abed either.

“Besides, he didn’t take anything with him,” Luke said. “Not even a toothbrush.”

Abed’s friends have mounted a campaign to find him.

They posted a banner outside the store with his photo. “Have you seen me?” it asks.

Customers and concerned neighbors have been dropping by all week, looking for news.
A MySpace.com page asks for information.

The mystery began Monday, when Abed, 34, didn’t show up to open his store at Parsons and Windhorst roads .

This was out of character for him, several friends and family members said. It was also not like him to leave for six days without telling anyone where he was going. He hasn’t replied to voice mail or text messages.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” said Stephan Kone , who worked at the BP station with Abed and has known him for years. “If you had a business that made money, would you just take off and leave it? He wouldn’t do that.”

Abed, who also goes by Ramos to his friends, lived less than five minutes from the store in a rented house with his cousin, Ahmad Issa , also 34.

The two both grew up in Israel together before moving to the U.S. in 1990.

Issa said he last saw Abed sleeping on the couch around 2 a.m. on Monday and talked to a neighbor who saw Abed’s silver, 1998 Toyota Tacoma pickup still in the driveway around 5:40 a.m., close to the time Abed should have left for work.

When Issa left the home around 8 a.m, Abed’s truck was gone and Issa assumed he was at the store. Shortly after, he drove by the store and saw that it was still closed and Abed’s truck wasn’t there. The truck has not been found.

“I don’t think the cops are taking it seriously,” Issa said. “There has been no bank activity (in Abed’s account) all week, so that seems suspicious.”

Issa said he has not yet spoken to Abed’s parents, who live in Israel, and was not aware of any plans Abed had to turn the business over to them. But he did not believe Carter’s suggestion that Abed left to meet a girlfriend and could not imagine Abed ignoring everyone’s phone calls and text messages.

He was hoping to persuade sheriff’s detectives to have Verizon Wireless track Abed’s cell phone. Meanwhile, Kone and another relative of Abed’s have been keeping the store open, fielding questions from anxious customers.

Some wanted to know if the sign outside was real. One girl brought a sympathy card for the store workers and another woman broke down in tears when she heard the news at the store.Customer Justin Sealy , 25, had just heard the news from a former girlfriend who knew Abed and walked into the store Saturday to find out more. He said he borrowed a pack of cigarettes from Abed and returned to pay him back the day before Abed disappeared.

“I was going out of town, and he asked when I’d be back, and I said Friday or Saturday,” Sealy said. “It didn’t seem like he was going anywhere.

“He was cool.”

Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.