ST. PETERSBURG — If the safety of those you love was threatened, how would you respond? Many people contemplate this question with commingled curiosity and fear.
For Jeremy Reed and Anna Soto, the answer came early Sunday when a pair of violent men burst into the bedroom where they slept with their 7-day-old daughter.
Reed is a 30-year-old marine mechanic. Soto, his fiancee, is a 24-year-old student. They live in a single-story house at 4730 15th Ave. N, in a quiet neighborhood clustered around Mount Vernon Elementary School.
Jenna was born Dec. 1. Around 2 a.m. Sunday, she was sleeping in her parents' bedroom. Reed and Soto were enjoying precious hours of slumber after an exhausting week filled with the duties of caring for a newborn. The family dog, a Chihuahua mix named Pepe, dozed alongside them.
A bang — they would later learn their front door had been smashed off its lock — woke them. The first thing Reed recalls seeing was an unfamiliar person at the foot of his bed, flashing gold teeth and white eyes that in the darkness seemed to float, as though unattached to a human face.
The strangers who came into their home were Anthony James Stewart, 29, of St. Petersburg, and Maurice Emmanuel Climes, 27, of Clearwater, police would later say. Stewart and Climes are felons. Each has served time in state prison, state records show, and between them they have been arrested 43 times in Florida.
Climes' charges have included sale of cocaine and marijuana, leaving the scene of a crash that caused an injury, and violently resisting a police officer. Stewart, who has been convicted of burglary and illegal firearm possession, has tattoos across his arm and stomach that read, "Wanted" and "9 mm gun, my life my way."
According to St. Petersburg police, the pair first broke into a house at 1927 36th Ave. N on Sunday morning. The 33-year-old woman who lives there, whom police have not identified, was bound with an electrical cord while her 9-year-old daughter was made to sit next to her.
At 1:50 a.m. police were called by the woman's boyfriend, who said he had arrived at the house and could see her tied up inside. The officers who responded said they saw Climes and Stewart run to a waiting vehicle driven by a third man. The three drove off, and police chased. In the 4700 block of 13th Avenue N, the suspects abandoned the car and ran.
Two blocks away, police said, Climes and Stewart came across a modest house with a pink It's a Girl ribbon hung on the front door and a sign in the driveway reading Santa stops here.
Police were closing in on them; a sheriff's helicopter was buzzing overhead. Desperate, they burst in and were soon crowding into the bedroom where 1-week-old Jenna Reed slept with her parents.
Reed and Soto reacted quickly.
Soto grabbed the baby, ducked into the bedroom closet and shut herself inside. "His side of the closet," she said wryly of her fiance, "can actually fit a person."
Reed leaped out of bed in boxer briefs. He is of medium height, but imposing, with pale blue eyes and tattoos that swarm up his arms and neck. Holding his arms in front of him like an offensive lineman, he plowed into the man closest to him.
"Get out!" He yelled.
The man he hit stumbled into the one behind him. The pair backed into the living room.
"We got guns," one of them said.
"I got a newborn," Reed responded.
By then, one of them had grabbed the keys to Soto's Mazda 6. They barreled out the front door and into the car. Reed ran back to the bedroom and emerged with a .22 rifle belonging to Soto.
He stepped outside and pointed the gun at them, staring at them through the Mazda's windshield. They ducked. By then, Reed could see blue lights flashing. He didn't shoot.
The men drove off. Reed, dazed and still in his underwear, toted the rifle around his yard as squad cars arrived. Pepe wandered outside and sniffed nervously at a fierce-looking police dog.
After leading officers on another chase lasting about 20 minutes, Stewart and Climes were arrested when they ditched Soto's car in Pinellas Park, police said.
They face multiple felony counts, including home invasion robbery. Police continued to search for a third, unidentified suspect they say acted as the getaway driver in the first robbery.
Four guns, two of them assault rifles, were recovered from the first car the three abandoned, back in St. Petersburg. According to police, no one was injured in the course of the crimes.
"I feel good that nobody got hurt," Reed said, asked Sunday how he assessed what others might describe as a heroic reaction to the break-in.
When they heard the news, some friends told him they would have shot the men. Reed said they didn't understand how swiftly those moments passed, how little his and Soto's responses were guided by conscious thoughts of what they should or should not do.
Soto said he had told her that he expected to one day be tested as a father. But not so soon after the birth of their first child.
"He did good," she said. "He protected the family."
Remarkably, Soto said, the baby slept through the entire episode.
A quiet newborn with a full head of dark hair, Jenna lay curled in her mom's lap, sheltered by a tiny blanket decorated with elephants, while her parents recounted their story.
As Reed and Soto watched her — thinking about what had happened, and perhaps about the terrible things that did not happen — their daughter croaked out a tiny sigh and opened her eyes.
News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.