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Illness, gunshots upend Pasco couple's marriage

DADE CITY — The bookcase was just too heavy for Russell Bevan to move, despite his wife's demands that he barricade himself in the bathroom. He tried to obey. Paula Bevan had already fired four times.

"Say what you did to 911, that you were responsible for trying to kill the president!" Russell recalled his wife yelling, the magnum still in her hands. "I want you dead."

He didn't want to die. Not Wednesday morning, not at the hands of the woman he still loves.

"I'm responsible. I want the president dead," Russell said, trying to placate her, even though no one was on the phone. His 36 years with the Tampa Police Department taught him how to handle situations like these. He'd been fired on before, but never by a loved one.

"Please don't shoot me," he said to his wife of 33 years.

Silence followed. He couldn't hear her breath, her footsteps.

After waiting for the longest five minutes of his life, Russell, 66, wondered if Paula was still waiting to shoot him. He peered outside of the master bathroom. She wasn't there. He looked in the living room. She wasn't there, either.

Russell grabbed his medication and car keys and ran outside to his Jeep. Paula, 61, was lying at the end of the driveway, resting, as Russell drove off for help.

• • •

Russell and Paula had their first date on Valentine's Day 1978. Friends had set them up for a blind date at a party. Russell asked Paula if they could meet first to break the ice.

They went to a Tampa coffeeshop and stayed for more than three hours talking about their lives. Russell was a police officer. Paula worked for a phone company. They were both from Tampa.

"I thought she was the love of my life," Russell said. "It was basically love at first sight."

They were married by a police chaplain on July 14, 1978. It was a small church ceremony. All Russell needed was her.

A second marriage for both, they promised if things went sour they would go separate ways.

• • •

Their first two decades of marriage were joyful ones, Russell said. They lived in apartments at first, then 10 years ago they bought 5 acres in Dade City, hired a contractor and built their dream house on Nina Sue Lane, complete with a see-through fireplace that looked onto the living room and their large master bedroom.

He said Paula's trouble began with a pair of injuries in the 1980s. She hurt her neck and shoulder while at the police academy — something she joined just to prove to her husband that she could do it. After she recuperated from those injuries, she landed a job at the U.S. Postal Service.

Then one day a co-worker pulled out the lever from her chair as a practical joke. She fell and ruptured several discs in her spine. In addition to the physical trauma — Paula is unable to sit for long periods of time or lift heavy objects, Russell said — she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and slipped into depression.

Several years ago, Paula told Russell she was unhappy. She wanted to get her own apartment.

Then she disappeared.

She came back less than two weeks later, still wanting to move. Russell convinced her to stay and start saving her money. They eventually fell back into their regular routine, until the next time Paula took off.

Over the next few years, Russell said, Paula would just drive away. Sometimes to her family in Georgia, another time to visit her parents' graves in northern Florida. She was taken into custody for mental health evaluations at least four times, Russell said. Once, he said, she struck him with a fire extinguisher and threatened him with two butcher knives.

Paula's downward spiral was so slow, Russell said, it was easy for him to ignore the warning signs, to try to hold on to the woman he adored.

Then came the shooting Wednesday.

Deputies came to the couple's home and arrested Paula on a charge of attempted murder. She remained Thursday at the Land O'Lakes jail without bail.

Russell, who retired in 2003 as a sergeant, had taught his wife how to fire a gun years ago. As he examined the large bullet holes in his walls, he realized how close he came to death.

He obtained a restraining order.

"It's not the girl I married, this is something different," Russell said. "That wasn't her."

Times Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Illness, gunshots upend Pasco couple's marriage 08/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 7:47am]
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