In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

TAMPA – There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

That was before the arrival of “the serial killer,” as residents are now calling whoever snuffed out three lives in the last two weeks in southeast Seminole Heights.

Nighttime errands have shifted to daylight. Homeowners are keeping porch lights on.

And Fuller, 47, said Friday, “I’m almost ready to move.”

From the trendy Fodder & Shine restaurant, where business is unusually slow, to the city park on Giddens Avenue, where a group of residents spent the afternoon trading theories about the killings, no one could avoid being affected by the gruesome and seemingly random events.

“They say we all have a time to go,” said Rodriguez, who was shopping for her 5-year-old son’s birthday party. “But I don’t think it’s fair for somebody to pick your time for you.”

They took little comfort in the commonality of the crimes – that the victims were alone, outside in the evening and sometimes rode the bus.

Still, some found comfort in stopping to honor the lives lost.

More than 50 people from the community marched at a rally Friday evening.

Many shouted, “Remember Anthony,” “Remember Monica,” “Remember Benjamin.” They walked from E New Orleans Avenue, where Hoffa was found dead, to N 15th Street, where Mitchell and Naiboa were shot.

Nathan Dufresne, who organized the march, told the crowd not to let whoever was doing this to prevent them from living their lives. He also warned people not to walk home alone

“Be safe be vigilant,” he said. “But also, don’t lock your doors and hide your head under a pillow. Get out there and let him know we aren’t afraid.”

Some couldn’t help but be afraid.

Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said he has heard from frightened constituents.

“They’re afraid to be out after dark because the person is still on the loose,” he said. “They appreciate the increase in law enforcement. Most of them are just frightened and don’t know what to do.”

Families of Middleton High School students received a message from their principal, Kim Moore, telling them about stepped up patrols in the area.

“We are encouraging you to remind your children not to walk alone and to always be aware of their surroundings,” he said.

Stan Lasater, president of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association, said residents have vowed to stay put and not be run out of their homes.

But, he acknowledged, routines have changed, and people are eager to learn of an arrest.

“Everyone realizes that this is a sick person who is having fun, or whatever it is,” he said. “We’re just telling everyone to exercise common sense. Go out with more than one person. Be careful.”

Capaz, 61, stopped taking his nightly walks after the first shooting. He stays inside at night now, opening a door when he smokes a cigarette. “I have a fan that blows the smoke away from me,” he said. “This is crazy. I’ve lived here my whole life, and nothing like this has freaking happened.”

There are people who think they know what happened, even who the killer is. There are rampant and very specific rumors.

“It’s a feud,” insisted Jahquez Brown, 18, part of the group that was at Giddens Park.

E. McCardy, 29, was convinced that “it’s someone who lives over here.”

Capaz imagined an elaborate scenario. “It’s someone who just moved here and maybe lives with his grandmother,” he said. “Or maybe it’s somebody who just snapped.”

Kareem Robinson, visiting the neighborhood with his girlfriend, was convinced “it’s children killing children.”

Ron McKenzie, 56, and passing through for gas, said, “it’s kind of crazy that in Florida, everybody has the right to buy a gun.”

Carrie Wells, a 72-year-old security guard who was having lunch at Wendy’s, blamed a breakdown of morals. “It’s because they took prayer out of the schools and don’t let teachers punish the kids,” she said.

Times staff writer Howard Altman contributed to this report. Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol. Contact Jonathan Capriel at [email protected] Follow @jonathancapriel.

In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath 10/20/17
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