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Girl dead, two others badly hurt in Tampa; suspect captured

TAMPA — Andre Watkins was already accused of killing a teen girl and gunning down two others, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said, when he called to warn that he'd do the same to them.

Deputies did not let Watkins make good on his threat, capturing him early Saturday morning at a Plant City gas station as he refueled.

A deputy trailed the 53-year-old with the long criminal record to the Marathon Gas Station at Interstate 4 and Forbes Road. When back-up arrived, deputies swooped in at 1 a.m. and grabbed Watkins before he could get back into his car.

"It was well planned and executed in terms of the arrest," said Chief Deputy Jose Decobo after the suspect's capture.

So ended an intense manhunt that saw heavily-armed deputies mass in northwest Hillsborough after a string of shootings that appear to be linked to one man: Watkins.

• • •

Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee said the first indication of trouble came when an armed Watkins carjacked a Ford F-150 pick-up at a 7-Eleven convenience store at Plantation Boulevard and Linebaugh Avenue about 6:30 p.m.

The gunman forced the carjacking victim to drive him to 10536 Chadbourne Drive.

There, Watkins took the keys with him, left the truck and walked up to a red car. A 19-year-old girl and two young men sat inside. Watkins opened fire, deputies said.

The two friends fled. The victim, whom deputies later identified as Alyssa Marie Aracich, died at the scene.

Deputies said Watkins then forced the carjacking victim to drive him back to the convenience store and released his hostage. Watkins got into his own car, a red Pontiac GTO, and drove to his mother's house at 10806 Wingate Drive.

Watkins then took his mother's car, a 1999 Chevy Malibu, and drove to 10917 Brightside Drive in the Plantation subdivision. Gee said the shooter knocked on the door.

When Areil Love, 27, answered, the sheriff said, Watkins shot him in the stomach.

Love was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital where he was reported in critical condition.

From there, Gee said, the suspect drove to a BP station at 5919 W Linebaugh Ave.

Watkins walked inside and shot the clerk, Akbar Alwani, 57, according to Gee. That victim was also reported in critical condition at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Then, Gee said, the suspect confronted Bruce Demetrius Jackson, 32, in his front yard at 8583 Briar Grove Circle and started shooting. The man ran into his house as Watkins chased and shot at him. But Jackson ran out the back and escaped harm.

From there, the gunman was on the loose.

• • •

Deputies carrying semi-automatic rifles and shotguns stormed into the neighborhood and urged residents to take cover.

"If you live here, get in your house or get in your vehicle," a deputy shouted to residents on Chadbourne Drive. "The shooter is still at large and if you stay outside and he comes back, you'll be in the line of fire.''

Even before Watkins was formally identified as a suspect, some residents said they knew of him as "the crazy man." They said he had threatened other teenagers including the victim, and wondered why deputies had not yet visited his house.

Before that warning, residents had been milling on the street, some crying and in shock.

As the night went on police stopped cars entering the neighborhood, searched their trunks and peeked in the rear seats with flashlights to prevent Watkins from returning.

As the search went on, deputies even warned the media to get back into their vehicles.

Law enforcement searched for him on the ground and in the air. Some reports even put him across the bridge in St. Petersburg for a brief time, where officers were told to pair up as they searched for him. Don't confront him alone, they were warned.

"We believe if we don't get our hands on him there could be more violence tonight," Gee said at a news conference late Friday night.

• • •

Watkins' first arrest was in 1980 in Miami for armed robbery, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, a charge that was eventually dismissed.

In 1996 he pleaded guilty in Hillsborough County to obstructing justice and retaliating against a witness, and was placed on 6 months' probation.

He has been the object of a domestic violence injunction and pleaded guilty in 2002 to grand theft auto and possession of marijuana.

In October 2008 he was arrested on a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm but the charge was later dropped.

• • •

Watkins knew or knew of each of his alleged victims, deputies said.

But sheriff's officials did not discuss what motivated or precipitated Friday's shooting rampage, or what caused Watkins to apparently go after each individual.

During the hunt, sheriff's officials said that Watkins even called law enforcement and mnade threatening statements.

Watkins was arrested on charges of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder, armed kidnapping and armed carjacking.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at (813) 226-3400.

Girl dead, two others badly hurt in Tampa; suspect captured 02/12/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 4:01pm]
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