SEFFNER — A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy shot a man who was carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle near Mango Elementary School Thursday evening, according to Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
It turned out to be a toy gun, but that fact didn't emerge until after a standoff with a deputy left the man severely wounded.
Around 6:20 p.m., someone spotted a man carrying what looked like a rifle, and called deputies, Carter said.
Deputy Ricco Palermo, 36, a 10-year veteran of the department, confronted Gilbert Velez, 56, of 7115 Dellwood Drive, Clair-Mel, at Mango Road just south of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Palermo told Velez to lower the weapon, but he pointed it at the deputy, Carter said. Palermo fired, wounding the man in the stomach.
Velez was taken to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition, Carter said.
After the shooting, authorities discovered that what Palermo had assumed was a rifle was actually a toy air gun.
Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said that even after 29 years of service, he finds the all-black plastic AirSoft BB gun still looked deceptively realistic. "Its striking how real it looks," he said.
According to an Airsoft Web site, the toys are the exact copies of actual guns, some using a mold to capture the look, feel and even weight of the real weapon.
Along with the toy gun, the scene was littered with other of Velez's belongings — a bag full of knick-knacks strewn about.
Witnesses told deputies that just minutes before the shooting they'd seen Velez strolling quietly through the parking lot of the Wal-Mart across the street, holding the toy rifle.
He owns a home within walking distance in the Mirror Crest subdivision, according to Hillsborough County property records.
Palermo is on administrative assignment with pay until an investigation of the incident is completed, Carter said.