ST. PETERSBURG — It sounded like a muffler backfiring, a sort of hollow blast. But then he felt a stinging pain on his hand. Then he saw the blood.
Then his friend felt a sharp pain in his chest.
It took five seconds for Eric Menges to figure out someone had shot them with a pellet gun.
On Thursday morning, he and his friend, who was in town visiting, were on a walk near the Pier when the pellet ricocheted off the back of Menges' hand and struck his companion.
St. Petersburg police later arrested three men who they say are responsible for a series of drive-by shootings with a pellet gun: James Anthony Chin, 19; Christian Eduardo Medrano-Ramirez, 18; and Richard Brody Thompson, 19. They were charged with crimes ranging from criminal mischief to aggravated assault and are being held at the Pinellas County Jail.
Another suspect was not charged because he did not "actively participate in the shootings," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.
Menges, 59, of Sebring thought he and his friend were the only two shot until he later saw the news.
"It was a little bit scary," he said. "It seemed completely random."
Police said there are at least 19 people who were shot at. Among the 12 who were hit by the air-powered gun, some suffered welts and, in a few cases, the pellets embedded in their skin.
When asked why they did it, the men said they thought it might be something "funny" to do. According to investigators, one said it was humorous to watch people "jump around" after being shot.
Callers began to report the shootings about 9:30 a.m., saying they'd seen the pellets fired from a silver Ford Expedition, police said. People reported being shot at in Vinoy Park, and two men were struck in the leg almost 4 miles away, near 34th Street and First Avenue S.
By 10:45 a.m., police tracked the car to the area of Ninth Avenue N and 12th Street, made the arrests and recovered the pellet gun.
Detectives said the shooters didn't target anyone in particular, and they believe Chin was responsible for 90 percent of the shootings.
The pellets were purchased Thursday morning at the Walmart at 201 34th St. N in St. Petersburg, police said, and one of the men shoplifted a CO2 cartridge used to power the gun.
Claire Wiseman contributed to this report. Weston Phippen can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8321.