LUTZ — The tall man with cropped hair and a heavy brown coat struts through the automatic doors at the Walmart on U.S. 41. He silently strolls over the crosswalk toward the parking lot and disappears into the darkness. It's 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Moments later, a couple walks toward the store. The man in the brown coat approaches them from behind. He says something, pulls a pistol from his jeans and shoots the man in the head.
The scene was captured by cameras mounted on the roof of the Walmart. On Thursday, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office distributed it to the media in hopes of finding the man they say committed a hate crime.'
The victim, shot twice at close range with a gas-propelled pellet gun, is black. His girlfriend, detectives said, is white. When the stranger approached, he asked the victim if he was from the Middle East and if he was Muslim. Both times, the victim replied "no.'' As the man attacked, he said, "N - - - - - with a white girl."
Detective Lisa Schoneman said she talked to the victim, who is from Trinidad. He told her, "I thought that I was dead," she said.
The first shot was so close, the gas from the muzzle flashed across the victim's head. He backed away and took another pellet to the neck. The man ran, at one point shooting over his shoulder back toward the victim and his girlfriend. He fired more than 20 pellets, deputies said.
The Sheriff's Office has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the shooter's identity. Sheriff Chris Nocco called the incident "heinous and brazen" and asked anyone with information to call toll-free 1-800-706-2488 or go to pascosheriff.com.
Cameras also captured the assailant inside the store, walking among aisles and saying something to two women.
The Sheriff's Office did not release the name of the victim, who is facing surgery on Monday to remove pellets. Schoneman said she isn't sure yet what kind of pellets struck him. "I'll let you know Monday when they take them out," she said.
"If that were a .22 (caliber pistol) or a .38 (caliber pistol), any type of real gun," Schoneman said, "he'd be dead. He knows that. It's changed his world forever."
Pellet guns may not have the power of higher-caliber weapons, but they can be deadly. In January 2009, a New Jersey man killed his wife by shooting her in the back with a pellet gun. Less than a year ago, a 6-year-old girl was killed in Peachtree City, Ga., when one of her brothers fired a pellet gun across the room and hit her. In March 2010, an 11-year-old Kentucky boy was killed with a Daisy air rifle. Dozens more pellet gun deaths have made headlines over the years.
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.