TAMPA — On a Thursday afternoon two years ago, a Plant City man unleashed a wave of bullets on two of his friends, killing one of them, authorities say.
The next day as deputies chased suspect Fransisco Rangel in unmarked cars, he opened fire with an assault rifle. Authorities say one of the bullets pierced an innocent bystander's vehicle, striking its passenger in the head.
That man died, and for the next six hours, Plant City was under siege as 250 investigators searched for Rangel. Fifteen schools were locked down and the Christmas parade canceled.
On Tuesday, the first of what is expected to be two murder trials began in a Hillsborough County courtroom.
Testimony on Tuesday focused solely on the first shooting and wrapped up with Vidal Quijada — Rangel's former friend. The one who survived.
None of the prosecution's witnesses, not even Quijada, offered a motive for the shooting. In six hours of testimony, the only reason raised was in the defense's opening statements.
"It was two against one," attorney Dana Herce-Fulgueira said. "Mr. Rangel acted in self-defense. He feared for his life."
Several women who spent time with the three men that day said they hadn't seen Rangel, 27, argue with either Quijada or the man who died in the gunfire, Michael Longoria, a 36-year-old father of five.
They testified they didn't see either man threaten Rangel or wave a gun at him. In the moments before the shooting, witness Joanna Hodge, 18, said she heard only laughter.
"The next thing I heard was popping sounds, like firecrackers going off," she said.
When Quijada took the stand, he looked Rangel in the eye and identified him. They've known each other since 2005 and used to spend a lot of time together, he said.
"Honestly, I thought we had a pretty good friendship," Quijada, 31, testified.
He explained that on the morning of Dec. 4, 2008, he rode around town with Rangel, Longoria and their friend, Alicia DeLeon, in Rangel's car.
Rangel was selling some jewelry, perhaps to raise money for a move, he testified.
"He was talking about moving back to Mexico," Quijada said.
When they went to another friend's house, Quijada said he walked to a shed in the back yard to talk to a few friends. DeLeon said she went inside the home.
Several witnesses testified they saw Longoria talking to Rangel near the car, parked behind the shed.
A few minutes later, Quijada walked toward his friends, and out of nowhere, Quijada testified, he heard gunfire and felt a forceful push on his side.
He realized the push was a bullet piercing his back, and he looked over and saw Rangel with his arm extended, he testified. A gun was in his hand.
"The last thing I saw of Longoria, he held his hand to his chest," Quijada said.
Longoria died at the scene. Quijada was hospitalized for about a month and underwent surgeries for his bullet wounds.
He said there wasn't a robbery going on right before the shooting. He didn't see Longoria take any aggressive action. And Quijada said he never reached for a weapon to use against Rangel.
Quijada wiped away his tears and left the courtroom.
He gave one more long look at the man he used to call a friend.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.