Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Pete homeless angry, defiant after acid bomb attack

Denny DeJesus shows where he and his fiancee were nearly hit by an acid bomb while sleeping near St. Vincent de Paul.


Denny DeJesus shows where he and his fiancee were nearly hit by an acid bomb while sleeping near St. Vincent de Paul.

ST. PETERSBURG — They thought they had seen it all here, those who live beneath the highway overpass the homeless call home.

They've been pelted with rotten eggs, tomatoes, firecrackers — even phone books. Every so often a passing vehicle hurls another cruelty at those who know little else.

After midnight Wednesday, a dark-colored sedan flew by on Fifth Avenue N. Three, 2-liter bottles were tossed from the passenger window onto the street.

Most were asleep, hiding from the bitter cold under piles of blankets and sweaters and jackets. Others were still awake at the corner of 15th Street. Just more empty beer bottles, they thought.

Then the first one exploded. They were acid bombs.

"It's a terrorist act against the homeless," said Rebecca Legg-Todd, 51, a regular on the corner.

St. Petersburg detectives continued their search Thursday for whoever attacked one of the city's most well-known homeless encampments.

No one was injured, though acid was splattered onto a couple's blanket. The next night, few of the corner's residents had abandoned their usual spot.

Instead, their fear turned to anger — and defiance.

"They're cowards," said Denny DeJesus, whose blanket was hit by acid, "and we need to set an example for the cowards.

"We're not scared of you."

• • •

The attack took place at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday outside the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's food center at 401 15th St. N.

The suspect vehicle was described as a dark, boxy sedan, perhaps an old Lincoln Town Car. It was headed west on Fifth Avenue, the passenger window facing away from the homeless.

But witnesses said that's where the bottles were tossed from, thrown over the car's roof by the passenger's white-gloved hand.

Three bottles wrapped in paper bags bounced onto the pavement. The first hit a stop sign at 15th Street, then rolled to the feet of the sleeping couple.

The second landed on the other side of 15th Street. The third landed farther west.

The last one thrown was the first to go off — with a bang.

"It was loud," said DeJesus, a 39-year-old unemployed painter from Boston. "Louder than an M-80."

The second bottle erupted "like a volcano," Legg-Todd said, and left a geyser of smoke.

Then the third bottle went off, spraying acid onto one of the seven blankets DeJesus and his girlfriend were using.

Legg-Todd said she called 911. The police came to investigate and threw away two of the blankets spotted with acid.

But it was 42 degrees that night. DeJesus said they needed every layer just to stay warm.

"Believe it or not," he said, "two blankets make a big difference."

• • •

Outrage was another emotion felt a day after the attack.

"These people have absolutely nothing," said St. Vincent de Paul's executive director Patricia Waltrich. "To be living on the streets and subjected to such a despicable act is unconscionable,

"I don't understand how people can be so inhumane."

The homeless are a problem in every community. But in St. Petersburg, it is a problem that often makes headlines.

In 2007 police made national news when they slashed homeless people's tents. New Mayor Bill Foster has promised a crackdown on the homeless. That same year, two homeless men were killed in separate shootings just blocks from each other in one night. One man is serving a life sentence for the murders, another is set to go on trial Monday.

Officers have been rousting the homeless during this week's cold snap. But Foster said it's for their own good, to get them off the streets and into shelters.

Indeed, many refuse to go into the shelters. St. Vincent de Paul had room the night of the attack. But some have no place to put their stuff. Others just won't go.

"There are just those who prefer to be outside because our rules are very strict," Waltrich said. "No smoking, no drinking. You come in, sleep and that's it."

That was apparent Thursday night at the camp. The scent of marijuana wafted through the air. Open beers were everywhere. A man urinated on the sidewalk on the other side of 15th Street.

Legg-Todd needs a walker to get around. She was moving even slower Thursday, after she said others in the camp "jumped" her. It was punishment, she said, for calling 911.

"It's an occupational hazard of being homeless," she said. "If you can call this an occupation."

Fast facts

Police seek tips

Anyone with information about Wednesday's attack can call police at (727) 893-7780. Anonymous tipsters can call (727) 892-5000 or text (727) 420-8911.

St. Pete homeless angry, defiant after acid bomb attack 01/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 8:25am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.