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The Sheriff's Office returns a weapon without checking to a man now accused of murder. The victim's call prompted his original incarceration.
By DEBORAH O'NEIL
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
In Room 332 of a Largo hotel, Stephen Howard Look II lay a loaded semiautomatic gun and two magazines with 50 bullets on a table and threatened to kill himself so he could be reunited with his dead children.
His former girlfriend, Jennifer Lynn Thompson of Largo, was trying to break up with him. Frightened by his talk and the gun, Thompson called for help, sheriff's officials said.
When Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrived at 9:40 p.m. Nov. 1, they confiscated his gun and committed Look of 4407 74th St. N in St. Petersburg to a Pinellas Park mental health facility for a three-day evaluation.
But the next morning, Look escaped that facility by scaling a fence on the east side of the property.
Three days later, the 21-year-old wanted his gun back. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office handed it over.
Hours later, authorities say, Look shot and killed 20-year-old Thompson in Tampa. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has charged Look with first-degree murder.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that the tragedy prompted an immediate change in policy. From now on, deputies will run a comprehensive background check on anyone who wants to pick up a gun seized by the office. That check was done on Look when deputies brought in the gun Nov. 1, but it was not required when Look appeared Sunday afternoon at the Sheriff's Office with his mother asking for his gun.
Had deputies checked, they would have found Look was listed in a national database by Pinellas Park Police as an endangered missing person who had been committed to Pinellas Emergency Mental Health Services on Nov. 1 for threatening suicide.
"If you're a missing person, I'm not going to release a gun to you," sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie said.
Sheriff Everett Rice said he initiated the change Monday. Also, he said, guns will no longer be released on weekends, only during regular business hours.
"I have to admit they might have handled it differently," Rice said.
But given the policy at the time, the officers did nothing wrong, he said. "There was no legal reason why we could have kept the gun," Rice said. "He was there with his mother. He'd not been adjudicated incompetent."
The tragedy unfolded Nov. 1 at the Sleep Inn. Dennie said Thompson told deputies that Look was talking about their two infant children, Kali and Stephen, who both died at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on June 23. After deputies used Florida's Baker Act to commit Look, they brought his gun and ammunition to the Sheriff's Office, where they were entered into the property section for "safekeeping."
At 10:45 Thursday, officials at the mental health center alerted Pinellas Park Police that Look had fled the facility. After searching the area, Pinellas Park officers entered him into a national database as an endangered missing person and also alerted area agencies to be on the lookout for him, said Pinellas Park Police spokesman Sandy Forseth.
Both alerts indicated he had been committed for being suicidal.
"If any law enforcement ran his name and even a birth date close to his, it would have red-flagged and the message would have come up," Forseth said. "These types of individuals are definitely unstable mentally. If you're going to come in contact with them, you're going to want to be on highest alert. You don't know if they're going to hurt themselves or hurt others."
Authorities said Look shot Thompson several times Sunday. Sheriff's officials in Manatee County picked up Look about 8 p.m. at a relative's home after he told the relative he had killed Thompson, authorities said.
Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies found her body at 1:18 a.m. Monday in her 1998 Dodge Neon at an industrial park in Tampa.