CLEARWATER — When a wanted ex-convict sought cover during a noon shoot-out with Clearwater police, he chose Palmetto Park Apartments unit 1701, where inside lived a father and his two children.
With a gun in his hand and at least one bullet wound in his torso, Julius Larrance burst through the unlocked front door, trailing blood on the doorstep and the apartment's "Welcome" mat.
The father grabbed his children and ran out the back door. Police said he had no connection to the 19-year-old gang member who was now barricaded among his things.
But sometime later, when officers went inside, they found the man friends called "Ju" lying on the apartment floor. Near his hand was a handgun, police said. Paramedics pronounced him dead.
The Wednesday gunfight that tore through this complex began when a veteran police officer and his young recruit attempted to stop Larrance, a year out of prison, on an active warrant for his arrest.
Larrance fired first and ran, police said, but he was the only one seriously hurt. The officer who fired back — Karl Wassamer, 46 — suffered only a minor foot injury, caused by the ricochet of bullet fragments.
Larrance had been wanted in connection with an April hit-and-run, in which a car plowed into a Palmetto Street natural gas line, forcing the evacuation of 40 homes, police said.
Detectives also wanted to question him about a double murder in Tampa, which police would not detail, and allegations of a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.
Many details, including how many shots were fired, have been withheld pending standard reviews of the shooting by police and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. As with every officer-involved shooting, Wassamer has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The shooting and foot chase crossed an unidentified route of the Palmetto Park complex, within shouting distance of a playground and the North Greenwood library and neighborhood water park.
The gunfire, police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said, also came devastatingly close to officers Wassamer and Lauren Josey, who is 25 and in her fifth month on the force.
"It was close," Watts said. "It could have been a very different situation."
Police said they attempted to contact Larrance while he was armed and barricaded inside, but friends and family of the gunman say they didn't do enough.
"They just let him bleed out," said Larrance's 20-year-old brother, Yancy Crowder. "If they had had someone in there with him, he would still be here."
Friends and neighbors said Larrance wasn't the gangster police had portrayed, that he had played baseball and attended Countryside High School. He was a native son of Clearwater who was covered in tattoos; one on his stomach read "Wick City," a slang name for the city.
Larrance had been arrested a dozen times in Florida, including his first, on charges of grand theft and burglary, when he was 15, court records show. He spent a year in state prison for robbery and was released last year. In January, he was arrested again, on a charge of possessing marijuana.
On Thursday, after the crowds and crime-scene tape had vanished, left on the white doorframe of apartment 1701 were drawings and scribbled goodbyes. "We love you," one read. "Trust you will be missed."
Absent, though, were the unidentified father and his children, among the first witnesses to Wednesday's gunplay. Police had moved them to temporary lodgings, destination unknown.
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.