NEW PORT RICHEY
A woman was shot in the leg Monday morning. She told police her brother did it. She said her three small children were still in the apartment where it happened.
That set off a tense, hours-long standoff at 6435 Illinois Ave. and forced nearby Gulf Middle School to be locked down. By the time the scene on the street settled back to normalcy, the children were safe but the gunman remained at large.
Authorities were still searching Monday evening for Elijah Jamar Booze, 21, the brother of the woman who was shot. Her name was not released, but a man at the apartments identified her as 21-year-old Britany Small.
The motive for the shooting remains under investigation.
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It's not clear how the woman got to the hospital. But once there, she told police that her children — ages 3 years, 18 months and 7 months — were still inside the one-story beige duplex that faces Gulf Middle.
Officers managed to quickly lure two of the children out, said Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll. The 3-year-old and 18-month-old toddled to the window when police knocked.
But that left the baby inside — possibly with an armed suspect.
The Sheriff's Office and New Port Richey police assembled a large force and kept adding to it as the morning wore on. Every few minutes, another squad car pulled in with lights flashing. Then a fire engine and an ambulance. SWAT officers milled around Gulf Middle's driver education training lot as they geared up. Others inside the perimeter wore bullet-resistant vests.
Just after noon, three SWAT members climbed onto the roof of the duplex and broke in the attic access. At least nine others kept watch from the ground. No one crawled inside, but they fed what appeared to be a camera or mirror inside. Then they climbed back down.
At one point, a man in a purple T-shirt and black shorts was led out from the back yard of the duplex. Doll said the man was in the unit next to where the shooting happened. He had been uncooperative in providing information and wouldn't give his real name. He was later arrested on an outstanding warrant.
About 12:30 p.m., a group of six or eight SWAT officers gathered at the door of the unit next to the shooting scene. From the other side of the building, a hostage negotiator's voice boomed through a loudspeaker.
"You need to contact us. Answer the phone."
"We need your help here. Please pick up the phone."
Finally, at 1:10 p.m. they kicked the door in.
Within five minutes, a SWAT officer walked out with the baby, who wore a T-shirt, socks and diaper. The child was taken to a waiting ambulance, then later to the Sheriff's Office child protection investigations unit van. All three children were unhurt and in protective custody until it could be determined which family members could take them, Doll said.
No one else came out.
Booze, Doll said, had slipped away after the shooting but before law enforcement surrounded the home.
Doll did not release many details of the incident but said there were some "disturbing" aspects that made the officers use extra caution.
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Gulf Middle students began to trickle out of the school not long after the standoff ended. Police were monitoring kids getting onto school buses.
After catching a TV report of the standoff, Meg Tritapoe drove to pick up her daughter, Hannah Brown, 14, who normally walks home.
"I was a little nervous," Tritapoe said, after learning the gunman was still on the loose.
Booze has previous arrests for possession of cocaine, marijuana and controlled substances without a prescription, as well as charges of violating his probation. Last month, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest on a charge of lewd and lascivious battery, meaning Booze was a wanted man even before Monday.
"He could be armed and dangerous," Doll said minutes before Gulf Middle students were released. "If anybody sees him or knows where he is, give us a call."
Tritapoe, 40, said she would have liked to have more information. "They call all the time about rosters and school dances … but (school district officials) never seem to call about this kind of stuff," she said. "I wouldn't have known if I hadn't seen it on television."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.