Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

Aunt says she tried to persuade her troubled nephew to surrender during Spring Hill standoff

SPRING HILL — From 600 miles away, Thena Cordola urged her nephew not to take his life.

James Michael Soard called Cordola about 9:15 a.m. Monday. She was home in Woodville, Ala., and he was at the house he shared with his mother and sister in the Berkeley Manor subdivision of Spring Hill.

As they talked, a Hernando sheriff's SWAT team waited outside.

"I told him, 'Mike, this is not the answer to anything,' " Cordola told the Tampa Bay Times in a phone interview Tuesday. "I said, 'Honey, I've been through it. I know how terrible it is on the people you leave behind. You will destroy your mother, and that's no way to honor her now that your father is gone.' "

About six hours later, with the SWAT team poised to move in, Soard shot himself.

The 39-year-old's suicide ended a 13-hour standoff with law enforcement that began when Hernando sheriff's deputies responded to a report of shots fired at the house at 8169 Berkeley Manor Blvd.

The Sheriff's Office said Soard, who went by the name "Mike," also fired several rounds at deputies. They took cover and called for backup.

Soard's sister, Elizabeth Soard, fled the home; their mother, Yuko, chose to stay inside.

At least three of Soard's rounds hit a neighbor's home across the street.

As negotiations with Soard dragged on throughout the day, authorities obtained warrants for his arrest on three charges of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer, and a fourth for firing at his sister.

Cordola didn't know that he had fired at deputies or his sister at the time they talked Monday morning.

"I could never picture him wanting to do that," she said.

She said it wouldn't have changed her advice to her nephew: Give yourself up. Don't leave your mother to mourn. If you're arrested, we'll help you.

As Cordola spoke, she thought of her own father — Soard's grandfather — who committed suicide when she was 12. Her ex-husband killed himself, too.

At one point, Cordola, Soard and a Sheriff's Office negotiator spoke on a three-way call.

"He kept saying, 'You have to promise me you're going to take care of my mother,' " Cordola said. "I said, 'You have to stay and take care of her. You're the only one who can.' "

Cordola described Soard as a loving son who was trying to take care of his mother now that his father was gone. Charles Soard, a Vietnam veteran who earned two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star over three tours, met Yuko in Okinawa, Japan.

They doted on their two children, and the couple had been married for more than 40 years when Charles died last August, Cordola said. Mike Soard grew up mostly in Los Angeles and dreamed of becoming an actor. He once played a pirate at Disneyland, she said.

A few weeks prior to his death, Cordola said, Charles Soard called his son, who was living in Hawaii or Los Angeles, and asked him to move to Spring Hill to be closer to the family.

When Mike moved into the house, his arrival created tension with his sister and her husband, who were both living there, Cordola said.

There were arguments and fights between the two men, Cordola said. Eventually, Elizabeth's husband moved out. Mike feared his brother-in-law. He bought a stun gun, then a pistol, Cordola said.

Mike Soard had power of attorney for his mother. Yuko Soard told Cordola that he cooked for her, took her to doctor's appointments and made sure she got her medicine.

"He wasn't that good at finances, but he was trying," Cordola said. "He would email me bank statements and ask me questions.

Soard didn't have a job but was looking for one. He signed up to take technical classes in Orlando, Cordola said.

But he also had a tendency to lose control when he drank too much, Cordola said. He was arrested in Orlando in February on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest without violence. The charges were dropped on March 11, records show.

During their phone conversations Monday morning, Soard told Cordola that he had come home late after celebrating St. Patrick's Day on Sunday night. His words slurring, Soard indicated he and Elizabeth had gotten into an argument after he hit something with the family's sport utility vehicle.

"He said he went outside and fired the gun in the air, he was so mad," Cordola said.

He told his aunt he got angrier when Elizabeth threatened to call police, and he fired the gun inside the house.

As deputies swarmed the home, Yuko Soard stayed inside. Cordola asked Soard to put her on the phone, but he refused, saying he didn't want to upset her. She was later ushered to safety, and the SWAT team moved in to find Soard dead.

"She probably thought she could talk Mikey out of it if she stayed there with him," said another aunt, Kathleen Soard of Tennessee. "Trying to protect him. That's what she'd done all her life."

Yuko Soard and Elizabeth Soard could not be reached Tuesday.

In their last phone conversation, sometime before 11 a.m. Monday, Mike Soard told Cordola he loved her and appreciated all she had done for him. He said he hated for it to be this way, but he didn't know what else to do. He was tired of the fighting and bickering.

"He said, 'I'm not going to let them take me to jail,' " Cordola recalled. " 'I'm not going to the nut house.' "

Cordola said sheriff's officials eventually told her to wait for their word to call him again. She said authorities promised to call her when the standoff ended.

Not hearing anything, she got online about 6:30 p.m. and saw on a news website that Soard had killed himself.

A detective called her about 90 minutes later.

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.

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