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Stephanie Kramer speaks Friday in her first interview since being held hostage Tuesday by Hank Earl Carr.
[Times photo: Kevin White]

'I hated him,' hostage says


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 1998

BROOKSVILLE -- Stephanie Kramer, who spent more time with Hank Carr on Tuesday than anyone else, is just about the only person he didn't try to kill.

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She knows she is lucky. But she also feels cursed that Carr happened to pull into the Shell service station where she worked just an hour before her shift ended.

She was terrified for the 41/2 hours he held her hostage. She is grieving for the three law enforcement officers and the boy Carr killed that day. She resents the suggestion that she grew friendly with Carr. And she is seething with a sense of violation.

"I hated him," said Kramer, 27, a clerk at the station on State Road 50 and Interstate 75 for two years.

"He was a man in there holding me against my will, taking something from me that I don't know if I will ever get back again. I cannot and will not forgive him."

In the past three days, she has been swamped with so many powerful feelings that she hasn't sorted through them. But she tried to explain them Friday in an interview, the first she has granted to reporters since Carr released her minutes before shooting himself.

Days later, she was still so shaken that she used both hands to clutch the hand of her boyfriend, Chris Hill, as she talked about Carr in the Ridge Manor home of Hill's parents. Several times, she had to stop speaking to keep from crying. But she displayed qualities her family members said allowed her to live when a lot of people wouldn't have: composure, intelligence and decency.

Though a Hernando County Sheriff's Office negotiator once suggested that Kramer had grown too comfortable with Carr, nobody is saying that now.

"She did all the right things," said Maj. Richard Nugent, the hostage scene commander. "In these types of situations, hostages should do whatever it takes to win release. That's what she did."

She was frightened enough when he showed up. He squeezed out of the window of his pickup truck as it rolled through the parking lot. Then he climbed into the window of the cubicle where she worked, bleeding from a bullet wound to his buttocks and carrying two pistols.

"All I could see was a lot of blood and two guns," Kramer said.

"He had me sitting on my boss' desk in front of the window that was not bulletproof . . . All I could see were snipers and police cars with their guns pointed at my back. I was thinking that I was either going to be killed by him or I was going to be killed by one of the snipers if they got jumpy."

Her fear grew as she learned about the killings, both from talking to him and overhearing his phone conversations with family members and reporters.

"I just kept thinking: Don't lose your head. Don't do anything that's going to make him angry. You're okay. You're still breathing, and if you do it right, you're going to make it out of here."

Keeping him calm meant being nice to him, despite the anger she felt toward him, especially for killing the 4-year-old.

"He wanted me to comfort him for the loss of his the little boy, and he put his hand on my leg and he kept looking at me, and then he grabbed my hand and then he squeezed my hand, and I started rubbing his arm. And I said I was sorry," she said.

"But I wasn't sorry for him; I was sorry for the mother who had lost her child. I was sorry for the child who had lost his life .

"People said I cried for him. I cried for the little boy that he killed and the police officers that he killed," she said.

A few moments were especially terrifying.

He asked her to step outside the cubicle to get him some cigarettes, she said.

"He asked me not to run, and I saw the gun on me. I thought: This is it; If he even thinks I'm going to run, I'm dead."

It soothed him to talk to his girlfriend, Bernice Bowen. Every time the negotiators cut her off, he threw the phone down or jabbed the receiver in Kramer's direction.

"That's when he started moving around with the gun. He grew very agitated . . . and I started to get afraid," Kramer said.

He repeatedly raised her hopes by telling her " "After I smoke this cigarette, I'll let you out. After I have some time to reflect on happier times.' He just wanted to smoke one more cigarette and think," she said, "but that kept going on and on."

Finally, she said, "I had the courage to stand up, and I looked at him and I started crying and I said, "Please, I've done nothing to you. I have a family that wants to see me, and I want to see them.' "

She barely remembers leaving the store or running across the road, she said. She does remember the overwhelming desire to be with her family.

"The first thing was seeing Chris and my mom. I wanted to see them and hold them and kiss them and tell them how much I loved them.

"It is the thing about that day that I will always remember, seeing his face . . . No relief washed over me until I got to see him, and that's when I knew that everything was going to be okay."

Since then, she has spent time appreciating that she has her loved ones back, she said.

"Right now, it's just being with him, being with my family and just living my life," she said.

For a while, that means trying to avoid anything that will make her angry, frightened or sad.

She has not decided if she will go back to work at the Shell.

On Thursday, she escaped reporters by spending the day with a friend. On Wednesday, she did little more than sit on the back porch of Hill's parents home, trying to soak in the peace of the pine woods around their yard.

"Right now," she said, "quiet is very good."

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