TAMPA — In each case, the victims did as they were told: They granted the armed man the money he demanded.
Bullets flew anyway.
At a Walgreens on Friday morning, a 19-year-old cashier fumbling to remove money from her register heard a bullet fired at the floor near her feet.
At a CVS 17 hours later on Saturday, a 27-year-old store clerk was shot in the chest after he opened his cash register in answer to a gunman's demand.
Then, on Sunday, a Sonic Drive-In manager took a bullet in his foot after being forced at gunpoint to open the store's safe and hand over money.
The similarities of the three weekend crimes have Tampa Police and Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies wondering whether the cases are related.
"The fact that they are shooting the victims after they comply indicates they are very dangerous, ruthless," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "It's imperative that we catch them before someone gets seriously injured or worse."
The CVS employee, who has not been named, remains in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
The details of the cases, according to police:
• At 7:40 a.m. on Friday, a man walked into a Walgreens at 4319 N Armenia Ave., pointed a gun at a cashier and demanded money from the register. The cashier complied but had trouble getting the money out, police said. The robber fired a shot at the floor near the victim, then grabbed the cash. The man fled in a waiting Dodge Caravan. He was described as a 6-foot-2, dark-skinned black man, 20 to 25 years old, weighing 200 pounds. He wore a ski mask, black knit gloves, a full-body ski suit, black high-tech boots and a knit camouflage cap with a brim. The van was driven by another suspect who wore a white cloth mask.
• At 12:37 a.m. Saturday, a man wearing a Halloween mask walked into a CVS drug store at 11212 N Dale Mabry Highway, fired a shot into the ceiling, jumped over the counter and demanded that the store clerk open the register. He then shot the 27-year-old employee twice before stealing the money and fleeing. The suspect was a 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9 black man, with a thin build of about 160 pounds, wearing black clothing and gloves, police say.
• At 6:20 a.m. on Sunday, three men went through a drive-through window at Sonic Drive-In, 2523 N Dale Mabry Highway. Two of the men got out of the car and approached a 54-year-old store manager and a 25-year-old employee seated outside. The two suspects forced the victims into the store at gunpoint. Inside, one of the two robbers ordered the manager to open the safe, while the other robber ordered the employee to lie down on the floor. After the first robber got the money from the safe, he fired a single round at the manager, striking him in the right foot. The two robbers then rejoined the third man, fleeing in the 1990s blue Crown Victoria with tinted windows that awaited them and traveled east on Beach Street. The manager was treated at St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was in stable condition, police said. One of the Sonic robbers wore a dark ski suit, a dark-colored ski mask and white gloves. The second wore a dark ski mask and ski suit. Police did not have a description for the third man.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.