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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Shooting of student near Plant High stuns neighbors

The 16-year-old girl was shot while walking with a friend along the brick, tree-lined street. She was heading home from a Plant football game, about a half-mile from campus and a few yards from the second tee at the affluent Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club.

Four days later, residents of the neighborhood remained unsettled about the shooting.

They are used to Friday night revelry when Plant football games are over. People walk home, they holler and maybe a light a few firecrackers, said Eleanor Spada, who lives along the road where the shooting occurred. Spada, along with her daughter, helped the wounded teen until police and paramedics arrived.

“Young girls ought to be able to walk home,” she said. “We all will breathe a sigh of relief when we have answers to this.”

She said she could hear the game still going on when the shot rang out.

“It was creepy clear,” she said. “We heard the shot and the screeching tires.”

She and her daughter, a college student studying medicine, “flew out the door,” Spada said.

“When you see kids down, that just. ..., her voice trailed off. “They were across the street and one was holding her calf. Her hands were completely bloody.”

Neighbors came out and called 911. They brought towels, and a tourniquet was put on the victim’s leg to stem the bleeding.

“I’m not trying to exaggerate,” Spada said. “It was a half-inch hole. We were worried about her going into shock. We were trying to keep her conscious.

“She was amazingly brave,” Spada said. “To have a 16-year-old with a tourniquet on her thigh; it hurt, but she stayed conscious.

“The teen called her mom on a cellphone,” Spada said. “She said, ‘I’m sorry to say this. I’ve been shot.’ ”

The upscale community was taken aback that something as violent as this happened on their usually safe streets, she said.

“I’m sensing just from the moms I’ve spoken with,” she said, “that a lot are just creeped out by this.”

Still, she said, “I noticed a lot of people walking yesterday [Sunday] morning. Everyone was walking. None of that’s changed. The whole thing that is creepy is the gist of what happened. It’s just inherently wrong that somebody did that. The girls were running away. To me, it’s like he shot them in the back.”

Police said it appears the incident is an isolated, random event in a safe neighborhood but were asking students to remain cautious and alert of their surrounding while walking near campus.

Plant High Principal Robert Nelson sent out a recorded phone message to parents Saturday afternoon telling them about the shooting.

“There is a level of concern,” Nelson said Monday morning, “and Tampa police will increase some of the patrols in the area.”

This is a busy week, he said. The annual Panther Prowl pep rally is Tuesday night and the homecoming football game is Friday. PSATs are being given this week as well, he said. Security will be strengthened on and off campus for the events, he said.

“It’s very busy,” he said, “and we’re trying to keep it as normal as possible.”

Still, a student has been shot. And that unsettles classmates.

“Obviously, when something like that happens here, a level of concern comes with that,” Nelson said, “but with this week being so busy with so many events going on, students are focusing on that. It takes their minds off what happened on Friday night.”

Police described the suspect as a white male, 20 to 30 years old and clean shaven with a chubby face. He was possibly wearing a red shirt and had a black ski-type mask on his head, but it was not covering his face.

The shooter was in a black, four-door vehicle with dark tinted windows when he pulled up to the girls, ages 15 and 16, about 10 p.m. on West San Miguel Street near South Bendelow Trail, about a block west of MacDill Avenue.

The man rolled down the car window, said something to the girls and pointed a gun at them, police said. The girls ran, and the man fired, hitting the 16-year-old in the lower left leg. She was recovering at a local hospital in good condition, authorities said.

Police do not believe the shooter had any connection to the school.

Detectives scoured the neighborhood over the weekend and said they had developed some “very good leads.”

The names of the girls are not being published because they are victims of what appears to be a random act and the gunman has not been arrested.

Anyone with information was asked to call police at (813) 231-6130, or Crime Stoppers to remain anonymous.

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