ST. PETERSBURG — The two brothers were shot and robbed within 3 miles and three days of each other.
Police don't believe the siblings were singled out as targets. But investigators do believe the twin robberies this week are more than just a horrible coincidence.
Both Narendra and Indravadan Patel worked late at night. Both worked alone in unlocked stores. Both had virtually no security, save the cameras that captured each shooting. All circumstances that made them vulnerable targets.
What's more, police believe the same pair of masked gunmen robbed and shot both brothers — and hope this isn't the start of a violent crime rampage.
On Monday night, Narendra Patel, 53, emptied his register for a gunman and was still shot three times by a robber who wasn't happy with his take.
On Wednesday night, his brother, Indravadan Patel, 46, may not have even had a chance to cooperate. A gunman ran inside, leaped over the counter, shot Patel in the stomach and cleaned out the register as his victim slumped to the ground.
St. Petersburg police are cooperating with Hillsborough authorities, who are investigating their own string of violent robberies.
But investigators on both sides of the bay have yet to determine whether the crimes are related.
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The grainy surveillance footage from the St. Petersburg robberies shows a gunman with similar features: tall and wiry, aggressive and fast. The similar styles also lead police to believe it is the same crew, said St. Petersburg police Maj. Michael Puetz, who heads the crimes against persons division.
In both cases:
• One gunman stood lookout by the door. The other gunman confronted and robbed the clerk.
• Both robbers are masked and wore dark clothing.
• The stores were robbed at similar times: 10:30 p.m. Monday and 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.
• Both stores were virtually empty. There was just one customer Monday and none Wednesday.
Then, the most important similarity of all:
"We have victims who cooperated (or didn't resist) and have been shot," Puetz said. "That level of violence in these cases is rare."
Both gunmen will face attempted murder charges and up to life in prison, he said.
In each case, the gunmen got away with little more than $100.
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For the Patel families, fear turned to anger Thursday.
"If you're going to rob someone, just rob them," said Saurabh Patel, 27, nephew to both victims. "You don't have to shoot them."
He was at his Uncle Indravadan Patel's store on Thursday to help open it for business. The store that was robbed Monday was also open the next day.
Both families say it is their sole source of income.
Indravadan Patel has owned two stores for more than a decade but had little trouble until Wednesday.
He bought his second store, the well-known MaNNY's, in 2005. Patel renamed it Suhani, after his daughter, and rebuilt it at 2539 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N the next year.
He drove from his Wesley Chapel home every day to open at 5 a.m. and close at 10:30 p.m.
The father of three remained in critical condition Thursday after surgery. The same day, the family had its first security measure installed: an electronic lock. Now the door can be opened only by the clerk.
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For Narendra Patel, Monday's robbery was just the latest at Star Deli at 2451 Fifth Ave. N.
The family said the store has been robbed five or six times in the past decade. Patel himself was shot in a 2002 robbery.
The 53-year-old father of two wasn't even supposed to be working nights anymore. He was covering for his son, whose flight home was delayed Monday.
He was released from the hospital Wednesday, just hours before his brother was shot. He found out about it as he watched the 11 p.m. news.
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The eight Patel brothers share more than just a name.
Narendra and Indravadan Patel both emigrated separately from India to the United States, just like their six other brothers.
Like all the brothers, both sought better lives for their families. In India, Narendra was a bank manager. Indravadan had just graduated from college.
Both traded their old lives for new ones as convenience store owners. In all, five of the brothers bought stores. All worked long days and weeks.
One brother passed away, leaving his store to a son. Only three still own stores in the Tampa Bay area, including the two victims.
And the other brothers?
"They found something better," said Saurabh Patel.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.