TIERRA VERDE — Meghan Brown had fired her pink .38-caliber handgun only inside a shooting range. Even there, she said, she wasn't very good.
The 2009 Miss Tierra Verde, 25 and a slender brunet, had trouble pulling back the trigger. When she did manage, she said she almost never hit the target.
That Saturday was different.
A man barged into her home, attacking her and beating her fiance. Adrenaline pumping, she fetched the gun from her bedroom. She trained it on the man, following his movements as he tussled with her fiance.
She saw an opening. She pulled the trigger. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
Albert F. Hill, 42, never got up.
"I'm glad it was me," Brown said. "Not everybody else is that prepared, you know what I mean. Not everybody else is walking around with a loaded .38."
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Brown lives with her fiance, 43-year-old Bobby Planthaber, in a 2,732-square-foot Tierra Verde home. Next to the home's front door is a plaque that reads "Phat City." Surveillance cameras cover the home, inside and out.
Through the front door, visitors go up a few steps into the main room. A cockatoo named Bella greets with a "hello."
It's tiled, high-ceilinged. Inside are three flat-screen TVs clustered along a wall, leather furniture, and crystal-clear fish tanks.
Planthaber said he and Brown are arborists. She also rescues birds and animals — hence, Bella, two other macaws and a 5-foot iguana named Godzilla.
After the March 12 home invasion and shooting, which the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Sunday is still under investigation, neighbors weren't surprised by the location. They say Planthaber threw big parties and had eccentric tastes.
Planthaber chided his neighbors for not showing more concern over an attacker who could have killed him and raped and killed his fiancee.
He said there was good reason for those parties his neighbors had recalled: They were benefits for a seabird foundation.
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The knock came about 3 a.m.
It was a friendly rhythm, Brown said — bop bodda bop bop, bop, bop.
It wasn't unusual for friends to come by at such a late hour. One of Brown's friends had stopped by a month ago at that time. The couple always offered one of their beds to people who were too drunk to drive home from a nearby bar. Brown said she went to the front door thinking it must be a friend.
"It still didn't dawn on me that there was a guy outside waiting to kill us," she said.
She unlocked the door. She said Hill pushed it open.
Hill, a tattooed, bald, 250-pound man, quickly overpowered her. He grabbed her from behind and wrapped his fingers around her nose and mouth, smothering her and snuffing out her screams.
"It all happened so fast," she said.
She tried to squirm away, but couldn't. He made a beeline for the master bedroom, as if he knew where he was going, Planthaber and Brown said.
Brown continued to flail. Hall moved his hand to her neck. Brown let out a scream.
Out came Planthaber. He went for the man.
"My No. 1 objective is to get this guy off my fiancee," he said.
The two rolled around, breaking the dining room table and chairs. Planthaber said it lasted about two minutes. Hill had a good 80 pounds on him and was winning.
While they were fighting, Brown got her gun from the bottom drawer of her nightstand.
She trained the weapon on the man, but was unable to shoot because Planthaber was too close. She followed his movements.
"I had my gun drawn, focused in on him; as he moved, my gun moved," she said. "I waited for my shot, and when I saw an opening, I fired."
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Brown said she is confident she made the right decision.
"The way I see it is, the guy was a really bad guy and if it wasn't my bullets, it probably would have been the police officer's bullets. It's not like he was going to turn his life around."
"She could have easily ran out that door and went to a neighbor's. She could have gone away. Instead, she kept her calm, grabbed her gun, and did everything the proper way," he said.
State records show Hill had been in and out of prison since 1986 for burglary, grand theft, selling cocaine and other crimes. Hill was last arrested in Pinellas County in February for disorderly intoxication.
Hill's girlfriend, Arielle Hope, said after the shooting that he was changing his life.
"It's a shame everything went down the way it did," Hope said. "Al's future was bright and everything was looking up for him and me and our life together."
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The Sheriff's Office has not released the names of the residents involved in the shooting — Brown and Planthaber — saying that others may have been involved in the home invasion.
Planthaber said that is exactly what happened.
He said a deliveryman who had been to the home was canvassing the place and working with Hill. He said investigators told him that Hill and the man were at the same bar he and Brown were at earlier that Friday night.
He said the attack happened about an hour after he got home — long enough to fall asleep.
Deputies said that the home had been targeted, and that neighbors were not at risk.
Planthaber doesn't buy it.
"The neighborhood needs to be aware, this wasn't us being targeted from someone nonlocal," he said. "There's reason for other people to worry."