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Suspect in Spring Hill neighbor's shooting found dead in apparent suicide

SPRING HILL — Neighbors knew from the start that Thomas Brocato was going to be trouble.

Brocato, 58, was surly and confrontational from the moment he moved into his two-story home on Siam Drive about a decade ago. One of the targets of his ire, neighbors said, was the man who lived next door, Bill Stelling.

But neighbors never expected Brocato to do what authorities say he did Tuesday morning.

Shortly after 9 a.m., Brocato shot Stelling multiple times inside Stelling's home at 13071 Siam Drive, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said. Brocato then retreated to his own home.

Sometime between then and 2:30 p.m., Brocato apparently doused himself with gasoline and fatally shot himself, Nienhuis said. Members of the Sheriff's Office SWAT team found his body on the home's second story.

Stelling, 66, was in critical condition Tuesday evening at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, a hospital spokesman said.

Neighbors described Stelling as a friendly widower who suffers from severe back pain.

"I'm happy the son of a b- - - - is dead," Matt McCabe, a friend of Stelling's who lives across the street from both men, said of Brocato. "(Brocato) was a miserable human being, and to shoot a man who walks with a cane is just uncalled for."

For several hours, deputies weren't sure Brocato was inside his home. They tried to communicate with a loudspeaker and by phone, but never got a response.

Residents in nearby homes were asked to leave. Two nearby schools, Spring Hill Elementary and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, were placed on alert for much of the day.

As his agency's helicopter circled overhead, Nienhuis asked residents to be on the lookout for Brocato.

At 1:20 p.m., deputies shot tear gas into the home. Some said they could smell gasoline coming from the house.

"It gave us some pause," Nienhuis said.

They entered the house about an hour later and found Brocato's body upstairs.

Nienhuis said investigators didn't know why Brocato shot Stelling or what he was doing in Stelling's home.

"I don't know if he was invited or if he barged in," Nienhuis said.

Neighbors said it was unlikely that Stelling would have invited Brocato into the house.

Stelling and his wife moved in to their home in 1997, and she later died of cancer. Brocato bought his home at 13085 Siam in 2004, property records show.

McCabe said the two neighbors argued when Brocato tried to mark his property line but went too far and put the marker on Stelling's lot.

Neighbors said Brocato lived alone but rarely went anywhere without his small brown and black dog. They rarely saw anyone visit.

Rob Kane, who lives a few doors down, said his first run-in with Brocato came about a year ago, when a nearby brush fire forced a woman and her children to flee their home. The family retreated to a portion of the right of way in front of Brocato's home.

"She's standing there holding her valuables and he's yelling at her to get off his yard," Kane said.

Neighbors knew Brocato owned guns. He once reported one stolen from his van, Kane said.

Kane said Brocato offered to sell him some ammunition and got angry when Kane balked because he thought the price was too high.

State records show Brocato has no criminal history in Florida.

"He's a loose cannon," Kane said Tuesday morning as deputies were urging Brocato to come out of the house, "but I never thought it would come to this."

Times staff writer Danny Valentine and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Suspect in Spring Hill neighbor's shooting found dead in apparent suicide 09/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 9:38pm]
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