Bullets fly, then no one will talk

One young man is dead. Two are hurt. And deputies find it hard to sort it all out.

Published May 4, 2007

TAMPA -- With one young man dead, another wounded and a third grazed by a bullet, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office worked into the night Thursday to figure out not only what happened but also who the victims were.

"We're trying to piece together the chaos here," sheriff's Lt. Fred Asteasuainzarra said. "A ton of people saw what happened, but they're afraid."

No one wanted to tell deputies what happened, including those who got shot.

"The victims are being uncooperative," sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. "It'll be a while before we know anything."

This perplexing mix of bloodshed, death and stony silence played out as mourners gathered just 12 miles away to express outrage and grief over the murder of a Jefferson High School student who was gunned down in his front yard last week.

Meanwhile, deputies worked the scene of the frustrating new case.

Nearly five hours after the first shot was fired, Carter said deputies still didn't even have a "positive" identification of the three shooting victims and had been unable to notify the next of kin of the youth who died.

Here are the details the Sheriff's Office released:

The first shot struck a young man in the thigh about 5:14 p.m. at WestShore Pizza at 2224 E Fletcher Ave., just west of the University of South Florida.

Two minutes later, more gunshots rang out at an apartment complex less than a mile away, and two more lay wounded.

At Cedar Trace Apartments at 2200 Cedar Trace Drive, people scattered as two young men on bicycles collapsed in the parking lot. It was unclear late Thursday whether they were shot at the apartments or earlier at the pizza parlor.

One of the victims, approximately 17 years old, took a bullet to the neck and was initially listed in "very critical" condition when taken to University Community Hospital, Asteasuainzarra said. He later died.

The first person shot, a man about 21 years old with a thigh wound, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, Carter said.

He was "uncooperative with deputies, " Carter said.

And a third man, about 19 years old, was also taken to TGH after receiving a minor gunshot wound, Carter said. He too was not cooperating, she said.

After the victims were taken away, caution tape was placed around the spot where the bikes still lay. Cedar Trace residents and neighbors from nearby homes stood around the crime scene and gawked as sheriff's deputies and investigators canvassed the area.

A deputy took one teenage girl away for questioning. Investigators took photos of different areas of the apartment complex, and deputies knocked on doors.

Back at WestShore Pizza, a pile of bloody clothes and shoes littered the ground, and a woman who answered the phone inside declined to comment.

About two hours after the shootings, one woman sobbed in the Cedar Trace parking lot. She said she was the mother of the 17-year-old victim but wouldn't give her name.

Cedar Trace resident Robert Santoro, 60, said he heard rumors that the shootings stemmed from an incident that happened at a high school. But he didn't want to elaborate for fear of retaliation.

"This kind of thing happens here all the time, " Santoro said. "You won't get anyone around here to talk about it."

Staff writer Kevin Graham contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at 813 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.