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Attack victims treated royally

As officials gush over the tourists, Kenneth and Ardath Moore say the attack could have happened anywhere.

[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Kenneth and Ardath Moore, who are in their 70s and were attacked at a Tampa motel, appear with police Chief Bennie Holder, right, during a news conference Thursday in Tampa.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Kenneth and Ardath Moore came to Tampa on Tuesday hoping to see the baby giraffe and the white tigers at Busch Gardens, stay in a reasonably priced motel and enjoy each other's company.

Two days later, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco cuddled with the couple at a news conference as the cameras flashed. Executives of Busch Gardens promised them free VIP tours of the park anytime they wanted. The CEO of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau offered multinight stays in the city's best hotels and free tickets to every tourist attraction in town.

The Moores, for their part, responded to all this flash with the same grace, charity and bravery they have shown since a robber savagely beat them in their motel room.

"We don't want any special treatment," the 77-year-old Mrs. Moore said, her face still a swollen swirl of purple, blue and yellow bruises. "This could have happened anywhere. Tampa's no worse than anywhere else."

As Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder promised to make catching the attacker his robbery squad's top priority, other officials at the news conference stared at the cameras with smiles pasted on worried faces.

"Tampa is a very loving place, a very caring place," said Paul Catoe of the convention and visitors bureau. "Tampa has a great image as a safe destination."

The subtext of the news conference at Tampa General Hospital was a message to tourists: Please don't be afraid to come to Tampa.

Shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, the Ormond Beach couple walked out of their motel room at the Red Roof Inn at 2301 E Busch Blvd. to go to breakfast and later, Busch Gardens. A man was standing outsideand answered Mrs. Moore's "good morning" by punching her in the face. He shoved the couple back inside the room and continued to beat them mercilessly.

"I'd ask him, "Why can't we just give you the money?' " Mrs. Moore said. "That only enraged him."

Finally, after taking more than $600 in cash and the couple's checkbook, the attacker left. Everything happened so fast, the Moores could offer only a sketchy description of the man. He was a black male 25 to 35 years old, around 5 feet 10, and was wearing a gray T-shirt and dark pants.

Mr. Moore, 79, was beaten badly enough to require a wheelchair Thursday. Tampa General Hospital spokesman John Dunn said Mr. Moore would be released today at the earliest. Mrs. Moore already has been released, but is staying by the side of her husband of 58 years.

The Moores, both retired nurses who raised seven foster children and volunteer at a free clinic, were not angry Thursday.

"I feel sorry for the man who did this," Mr. Moore said. "Whatever he's done to put himself in this position, where he needs money this badly, whatever he's on, I hope he gets some help."

When Mrs. Moore commented that areas in their hometown are crime-plagued as well, Holder was quick to respond.

"The area around Busch Gardens is not a high-crime area," Holder said. "This was an isolated incident."

John Compton watched Thursday's news conference on TV and called the St. Petersburg Times to disagree with Holder. Compton lives across from Busch Gardens on Vick Place.

"He's wrong. Dead wrong. He doesn't live here," Compton said. "He's an outstanding chief and he cares, but he's ill-informed."

Compton rattled off a list of recent crimes, including two murders that happened within 3 miles of the amusement park. This week two people were shot about a mile away in armed robberies that police think are related.

"We don't want to put a bad face on Tampa," Compton said. "But we have to protect people who live here as well as tourists."

-- Angela Moore can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or amoore@sptimes.com.

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