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Couple have lunch, then he kills her, police say

The man shoots his ex-girlfriend at her desk, then himself, police say. He is hospitalized in critical condition.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


TAMPA -- Shortly before 1 p.m. on Friday, they left Big Mouth, the hamburger joint in Ybor City they frequented.

She had the traditional with cheese and seemed her normal, outgoing self, waitresses said. Her lunch companion, an ex-boyfriend, appeared edgy. But there were no flares of anger, no signs of anything especially wrong.

Minutes later, police say, the man walked into a nearby architectural firm where the woman worked as a receptionist and fatally shot her. Then he turned the handgun to his head and pulled the trigger.

The victim, Natasha Smart, 19, of 11331 Snowfall Court, died at the offices of Alfonso Architects Inc. at 1705 16th St. Jairo Cifuentes, 40, was in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital late Friday.

The daytime shooting left workers in Ybor City stunned and saddened and drew Mayor Dick Greco and police Chief Bennie Holder to the scene, not far from the recently opened Centro Ybor complex, which Carlos Alfonso designed.

"It's Ybor, and things happen at night," said Chauntelle Hicks, who works in a parking garage across the street from the architectural firm. "But you don't think of this happening during the day here. But then, you don't think of this kind of thing happening anywhere."

Police said the shooting took place in the reception area of the firm at about 1:10 p.m. There were other workers in the building, but none saw the shooting, said police spokesman Joe Durkin.

Smart had worked at the firm since August 1999, Durkin said, and ended the relationship with Cifuentes about two weeks ago when she moved out of their shared apartment in north Tampa.

Cifuentes, a Tampa Tribune employee, has a criminal history, according to law enforcement records. He was charged with domestic violence battery in 1993. In 1998, he was charged with domestic violence battery, drug possession and being a felon in possession of a weapon. In 1999, he was charged with violation of a domestic violence injunction. Smart was charged with making a false report to law enforcement in November.

If there were no fireworks between the pair during lunch Friday, co-workers said steam had been building in recent weeks.

Juan Rivera, a draftsman who does work for the architectural firm, said he often chatted with Smart while he waited in the firm's lobby. She was outgoing and made conversation easily, he said.

The two talked about Cifuentes and his efforts to win her back in recent weeks, he said. Cifuentes had begun calling her frequently, Rivera said, and early this week sent her a large bouquet of roses.

"I asked her about them, and she said they were from him, and she rolled her eyes," Rivera said.

On Thursday at about 6 p.m., Justus Versfeld said, Smart darted into his store, Jus Africa Imports, next door to the architectural firm. Cifuentes followed her inside and began arguing with her.

"She was trying to ignore him," Versfeld said. "He kept trying to get her to come with him."

Friday, the two had lunch at Big Mouth.

"He ordered for her," said Lisa Merriweather, the waitress who served the pair shortly after noon. "He had soup that he said he didn't like and insisted that I take back."

There didn't seem to be tension between them, she said, and yet something seemed awry. "I felt a little uneasy with him," Merriweather said.

After lunch, Smart returned to her office. Cifuentes sat down on the nearby railroad tracks, said Jim Andrews, 42, who was building a facade on outdoor bathrooms on 16th Street. Cifuentes, dressed casually in jeans, "just sat there for about five minutes," Andrews said.

"Then he went into the building over there. I heard three gunshots, bam, bam, bam, and then I saw all the fire and ambulance coming," he said. "I just thought it was somebody driving nails into concrete."

- Staff writers Amy Herdy and Josh Zimmer contributed to this report. Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or schweitzer@sptimes.com.

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