Family, friends shocked by deadly rampage in Pinellas

ST. PETERSBURG — As an afternoon rain pelted the aluminum siding, Cathie Little stood in a dry spot beneath the overhang of her mother's white and beige single-wide mobile home.

A damp breeze rustled the leaves on a potted palm just behind her. Little's arms crossed and her hands cupped her elbows. The hell of the preceding 24 hours showed in her dark eyes. Pain. Shock. Exhaustion.

Little's mind was on her big brother, Tony.

In the span of one hour Friday morning, authorities say, Anthony J. Giancola, 45, stabbed four people, beat two others with a hammer, slammed his car into four more, and ran over a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle.

Those who witnessed his rampage said they were certain he was on something. He is being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail, charged with two first-degree murders and four attempted murders. More charges are likely.

"There's a very good side to him," Little said. "We just don't know where it went."

• • •

In 1984, Giancola was a senior at Boca Ciega High School.

He had shaggy brown hair and matching eyebrows. He wore a broad smile above a thick, round chin and square shoulders. He was short, at 5 feet 7, but he didn't seem like it.

Giancola was all-everything.

He wrestled, played football and golfed.

He acted in the lead role for the school play, South Pacific.

He was crowned "Mr. BCHS."

He was the first student in Boca Ciega's history to be elected student government president twice.

He was offered admission into West Point.

"He was amazing, actually," said Tracy Elliott, who attended school with him. "He was so sweet and so well-liked."

At a school that had very little pride, she said, he changed the culture.

He organized a car-wash-athon to raise money for homecoming. He put on dances in the gym after football games.

When the principal got into a car accident, Giancola brought him a sympathy card signed by 300 students.

He didn't drink, do drugs or get in trouble.

"Teenagers always seem to have problems," Elliott said. "He just seemed to be the one who didn't."

Classmates knew him for his energy. He remembered everyone's name, had friends in every clique and attended every festivity.

Those closest to Giancola gave him a nickname:

Maniac Man.

• • •

Though he was admitted into West Point, friends say, Giancola attended the United States Coast Guard Academy.

In some way, he'd always been a teacher, so the world of academics seemed like a good fit.

He began teaching Tampa middle-schoolers in 1991.

A natural, he received glowing reviews from his bosses. He was quickly promoted. By decade's end, he was appointed coordinator at James Exceptional Center. Then, seven years later, he was made principal at Van Buren Middle School.

The kids adored him. He organized pep rallies and knew his students by name. Some called him "Mr. G." Others, "G-Dawg."

But Giancola's personal life was in turmoil.

His weight was ballooning, and he was getting divorced when, in December 2006, he tried crack cocaine for the first time.

It enveloped him. He began smoking crack every day.

Then, in February 2007, he called an undercover police officer posing as a drug dealer and asked him to bring $200 worth of cocaine to his school office.

"I make $90,000 a year," the principal told him by cellphone. "Trust me, my office is safe."

The officer came on Feb. 22, a half-hour before school let out. Short on cash, Giancola bought two pieces of rock cocaine for $20. He asked the officer and a confidential informer if they wanted to "hit it" in his office.

Investigators later found 7 grams of marijuana and two glass pipes with trace amounts of cocaine in his car.

"I made the worst decision that I possibly could have made," he would say later. "Look at what's happened to me, and don't let it ever happen to you."

• • •

Giancola's life since his arrest five years ago is still a mystery.

He was put on probation, but arrested again after he was found loitering in St. Petersburg in 2010.

After the attacks on Friday, Giancola parked at a nearby Egg Platter restaurant and called his mother. His white T-shirt was soaked in blood when she and another woman loaded him into the cab of a white Ford Ranger.

The women took him home, but he didn't stay. His mother called sheriff's deputies and, soon after, he was found hiding in a clump of brush next to a canal in the area of 56th Avenue N and 66th Lane N.

Old friends, even those who knew of his drug problems, were stunned at what has happened.

"It's such a sad thing because he's not a bad person," Elliott said. "That's not who he was."

Times files were used in this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8472.

Family, friends shocked by deadly rampage in Pinellas 06/23/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 24, 2012 12:38am]

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