TAMPA — Five years ago, Matt Buendia was a Marine preparing for deployment and Lyonelle De Veaux was a new sheriff's deputy.
He focused on rising through the ranks. She aimed to help abused and neglected children.
They met on Friday, De Veaux parked under the oaks at a Carrollwood apartment complex and Buendia with a gun tucked into his waistband.
It was a routine domestic call. De Veaux, 35, met Buendia's girlfriend at the front of the complex about 10:30 p.m. Friday. The deputy asked the woman to sit in the patrol car so she could give a statement.
That's when Buendia, 24, walked up. He was too close. The deputy asked him to step back.
Instead, he whipped out a semiautomatic gun and started pumping bullets into De Veaux, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
He fired nine or 10 times, deputies say, from just a few feet away.
De Veaux spun and crouched as she backed up, trying to use her car to get some distance from Buendia — a mix of training and instinct.
Three bullets hit her — in the upper leg, lower leg and shoulder, Sheriff David Gee said. She was wearing a protective vest, but it didn't cover those areas.
As she lay on the pavement, Buendia ran back into his apartment and locked himself inside. Within minutes, dozens of SWAT members and negotiators descended on the Inwood Park Apartment Homes complex at 4747 W Waters Ave.
At first, they had Buendia on the phone. When the connection went dead, a negotiator on a bullhorn told him to peacefully surrender. No response.
Deputies threw 14 chemical canisters to force him outside, but there was still no response. So authorities placed an explosive wire around the apartment door and blasted their way inside.
By that time, the Sheriff's Office knew Buendia had been in the military. Authorities were concerned that a trained gunman was waiting to ambush them, perhaps armed with rifles.
So instead of deputies, they sent in a robot. It combed the apartment and sent an image of Buendia passed out in a closet.
He appeared unconscious. After debating whether he was pretending to be knocked out, authorities determined it was likely safe to enter.
By 3:30 a.m., deputies were inside. Paramedics took Buendia to the hospital even though he hadn't been shot.
It's unclear why he was passed out. The chemicals might have affected him, sheriff's Detective Larry McKinnon said. The department is also investigating whether alcohol or drugs were factors. Buendia's Facebook page suggests he was at a Carrollwood club, Whiskey North, earlier that night.
Immediately after the shooting, De Veaux was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she was doing well Saturday.
"She is aware of what happened, and she is very thankful that she is doing as good as she is," said the deputy's mother, Martha De Veaux. "Doctors said they expect a full recovery."
Marine had PTSD
Buendia was booked into jail Saturday on a charge of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He also faces two battery charges, accused of hurting his girlfriend, Jessica Gipson, 28.
These are Buendia's first charges in Hillsborough, which has been home for most of his life. He appears never to have shown up on deputies' radar — until he allegedly shot one.
Buendia was born in Texas and grew up in Tampa, attending Leto High School before joining the Marine Corps.
He served three deployments in the Middle East, according to his uncle, Bob Buendia, 68, and rose to the rank of sergeant. He left the military a couple of years ago. His uncle believes Matthew started working in insurance.
When Matthew Buendia returned to the United States, his uncle spoke to him by phone. Matthew Buendia mentioned he had lost a lot of buddies overseas.
He didn't share the details, but his family could tell he was hurting, said Bob Buendia, of Texas.
The young man was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, family members say.
"I don't think he understands what had happened, to be honest with you," Matthew Buendia's father, Richard Buendia, told Bay News 9. "I feel awful. … He's a good young man, never been in any kind of problems at all."
Matthew Buendia was being seen by Veterans Affairs doctors, Bob Buendia said.
On Friday, friends posting on Facebook expressed shock, as did neighbors.
PTSD is very real. He needs to get real help. I hope that they will (take) everything into account and not take it to the max on him..., friend Keith Davis wrote.
Experts are divided on whether PTSD causes people to commit violent acts.
Brian Nussbaum, a clinical psychologist from Wesley Chapel who has worked with PTSD patients, said he doesn't believe it does.
"Having military training and use of weapons makes someone capable," he said Saturday. "But there are a lot of competing factors that could lead someone to act out in a violent way."
However, a 2001 article in the journal Military Medicine states that "significantly greater occurrence of aggression was observed in combat veterans with PTSD compared with those without PTSD." The study concludes that impulsive, violent actions are most often directed toward strangers while verbal attacks are usually toward people they know.
As troops return home, more PTSD cases have been popping up across the nation. In Tampa, defense attorney John Fitzgibbons is arguing that a Marine captain's PTSD and dissociative episodes are grounds for an insanity defense in a fatal DUI case.
Deputy wanted to help
De Veaux, who lives in Tampa with her mother, is a 1994 graduate of Plant High School. She earned psychology and music degrees from the University of Tampa.
Prior to joining the Sheriff's Office, De Veaux worked for six years as a family counselor for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Seeing children in dangerous situations spurred her to become a deputy, her mother said.
"There got to be so much violence with children, and she felt she could help more as an officer," Martha De Veaux said.
Deputy Josh Lane said he knew something terrible had happened Friday night when he heard De Veaux, his zone partner, screaming over the radio.
"I just knew she'd been shot," he said Saturday. "She doesn't ever get on the radio, she likes to keep the channels clear."
Friday's shooting was the latest in a string of violence against law enforcement officers in the Tampa Bay region in recent years.
"We have seen a shift in our society, unfortunately," Gee said. "I've been in this for 35 years, and I've never seen so many police officers shot."
This year, three St. Petersburg police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty. Officer David Crawford was killed in February while investigating a prowler report. Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and K-9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz were shot and killed in January during a gunbattle with a fugitive hiding in an attic.
Last year, Tampa police Officers David L. Curtis and Jeffrey A. Kocab were shot and killed during a traffic stop. And in 2009, Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts was shot and killed.
De Veaux's colleagues spent Saturday visiting her at the hospital, treating her to Mounds candy bars, doughnuts and a double chocolate shake. Among her visitors was Deputy Miguel Galarza, a member of her squad who was shot in the neck in 2009 while responding to a Town 'N Country home invasion. Galarza returned to work two weeks after his injury, but said it was hard to put the incident out of his mind.
"I'm sure the hardest part for her will be to stop reliving it and trying to think of what could have been done better," Galarza said. "But work helps."
Galarza had been at Tampa General Hospital with two prisoners Friday night when he heard De Veaux's call for help. He keeps returning to a singular thought:
"I should have been there."
Times news researcher Natalie Watson and staff writers Jodie Tillman and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or [email protected]