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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Gunman takes owner of shop on terror ride
A man and woman in their 20s force her to drive to Hernando County, she tells her husband.
By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED
Published June 27, 2007
TOWN 'N COUNTRY - As Maria Tsikurios unlocked her bagel shop in Tuesday's pre-dawn darkness, a man put a gun to her head and asked her if she wanted to die.
Those words started a three-hour ordeal that ended with Tsikurios, 46, abandoned and alone on a deserted Hernando County road, she later told her husband, Jim Tsikurios.
First the young, street-filthy man and woman took the $300 or so in the bagel shop's register. Maria Tsikurios told her husband she had never seen either person before.
She couldn't clearly describe the gunman because she was afraid to look directly at him, she told deputies.
She did remember that he was in his 20s and wore blue jeans, a black T-shirt, olive green Army style jacket and knit cap.
She got a better look at the woman, described as pale and skinny, in her 20s. Her long, bleached hair had black roots. Her right eyebrow and nostril had piercings.
Tsikurios said his wife told him they both seemed to be high.
After they emptied the register, they ordered their hostage behind the wheel of her Chrysler Voyager minivan, he said.
She told her husband they wanted her to take them to her home, where they assumed she had a safe - and where her three children were still asleep.
Protecting her family
In a panic and thinking fast, Maria Tsikurios offered an alternative. She would withdraw $300, her account's daily limit, from her credit union on Waters Avenue.
They agreed. A quick stop, and she handed over the money.
But they weren't finished. They ordered her to head north on the Suncoast Parkway.
Her abductors hid on the floor of the backseat, still pointing the gun at her. She could smell them.
"She said they had a really bad odor, like sweat, like they'd been on the street a while, " Jim Tsikurios said.
Maria Tsikurios drove them nearly all the way to the Weeki Wachee River. On a nearly deserted road, they ordered her out and warned her not to look back.
Three harrowing hours
Jim Tsikurios got a call from a shop employee a little after 6 a.m.
Marie had left the lights on, the register empty, the door wide open. And her car was gone.
"I was up there in three minutes, " he said. She would never have left the shop that way unless something was seriously wrong.
He called 911. For the next three hours, he feared the worst.
Frank Kahler, Marie Tsikurios's 17-year-old son from a previous marriage, said he and his siblings kept calling their mother's cell phone.
They didn't know it was ringing in her captor's hands.
Finally, about 9 a.m., a deputy told him: Maria Tsikurios had appeared at a service station in west Hernando County.
"I don't even remember the drive up there to get her, " said Tsikurios, 39, the director of maintenance for the Boston Market restaurant chain. "I was just focused on getting there as fast as I could."
Maria Tsikurios was too upset to speak to a reporter. She's run the bagel shop for about a year and a half, and before that she managed an apartment complex.
On the loose
Hernando County Sheriff's deputies found the Tsikurios' van in River Country Estates, an upscale Spring Hill subdivision, by tracing the signal from her cell phone, Jim Tsikurios said.
Authorities are still searching for the kidnappers.
Tsikurios won't be able to sleep tonight, he said. The thieves are free. And since they still have his wife's driver's license, they know where the family lives.
"I'll be sitting here in my living room with my two big dogs, " he said.
And he vows to make certain nothing like this happens again: he plans to buy a gun and to learn how to use it. "We'll be armed, " he said. "I'll tell you that."
Anyone with information about the abduction is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 813 247-8200 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-873-8477.
Staff writer Austin Bogues contributed to this story. Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3404.