ST. PETERSBURG — The women gathered like this all the time. They laughed and talked and played spades.
Ebony Stewart didn't come for the cards, though. She came for the company.
By 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, it was time for her to go see her two young sons. She reached for the door just as the women heard a faint knocking.
Stewart opened the door, and the shooting started.
A young man waiting on the other side of the doorway leveled a semiautomatic pistol at Stewart and shot her in the upper body, police said. The 27-year-old collapsed and died on the spot.
Then the gunman stepped inside and kept shooting. There were as many as 16 men and women in the house, and they all tried to run out the back. Two didn't make it: a 58-year-old woman shot while holding an 18-month-old baby, and a 28-year-old man shot in the back as he ran. Both survived their injuries.
Standing near the doorway was another young man holding an AK-47-style semiautomatic rifle, police said, but he did not fire.
The two gunmen took cash out of all the women's purses and ran away, leaving behind the city's eighth murder victim — including three police officers killed in the line of duty — in just 10 weeks.
Ebony Stewart "had no chance," said her friend Quantisha Davis, as she cried Thursday. "They gave her no chance."
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She died in a small green block house at 1036 19th St. S, in a block of small, tightly packed homes in the Jordan Park community.
Most of the people in the house were women, friends who've been playing cards together for years, friends said.
Police believe this home invasion took place because there were so many people there to rob. They did not identify the other two victims because they are witnesses. Both were hospitalized injuries that weren't life-threatening.
There were also children in the house: the 18-month who was held by a shooting victim, and an infant who was sleep in a bedroom during the attack, police said. Neither child was injured.
The search for the gunmen led a SWAT team to a vacant house at 1317 15th St. S around 11 a.m. Thursday. No one was there, but police believe the car they found may be linked to the shooting.
The man with the handgun was described by police as black, age 20 to 24, about 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds. His black hair was close-cropped, and he was wearing a red shirt, red hat and plaid shorts.
The man with the rifle was described as black, 5 feet 10 to 6 feet 1 and 180 pounds. He had shoulder-length dreadlocks and was wearing a blue hat, blue shirt and blue shorts.
Neither man wore a mask, police said. No other details about the shooting were released.
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By Thursday afternoon, a small memorial had been erected in the front yard of the small green house. Friends brought flowers, teddy bears, a clock and hand-lettered signs. One said: Time don't sit still for anyone.
Ebony Stewart was rebellious growing up, friends said, but later on gained a maturity beyond her years.
They called her "E-Breezy" because of her cool, mellow temperament. She was always ready to help a friend out. "She couldn't say no to anything," said her goddaughter Trinesha Davis, 17.
Stewart had recently graduated from Florida Medical Prep, a medical training institute in Pinellas Park. She was certified as a phlebotomy technician, and was excited about starting a new phase of her life, said friend Nicole Eubanks, 30.
Stewart left behind her 4-year-old and her 11-month-old, who are now being cared for by their grandmother and great-aunt, friends said.
As people grieved for Stewart, they also spoke angrily about the recent spate of killings.
"It's crazy," said Sam Harrington, 60, who stopped by to visit a niece who was in the house during the shooting. "How did these kids get these guns? Who sold it to them? These young men get ahold of these guns and they think they can do anything.
"They'll kill a cop. They'll kill a young lady. They'll kill anyone."