Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg store owner fires at masked robbers

Police investigate the armed robbery at John’s Variety, 208 Fourth St. N, on Saturday night.


Police investigate the armed robbery at John’s Variety, 208 Fourth St. N, on Saturday night.

ST. PETERSBURG — Behind the extra-strength Tylenol, gum and Alka-Seltzer, John Silva kept a gun named Betsy.

So when two masked men barged into his store Saturday night demanding money at gunpoint, he ducked down and grabbed the .380-caliber handgun.

"By the time I had it cocked, they ran like jackrabbits," said Silva, 53. "They never had a chance to shoot me. I just reacted."

Silva stepped outside and fired three rounds at the two men. Police captured two men they suspect in the crime — one near Central Avenue and Fifth Street, the other taking a swim in Mirror Lake with a police dog in pursuit.

Detectives were interviewing the men late Saturday night to determine if they were the ones who tried to rob Silva. Detectives also wanted to know if they were behind two armed robberies last week.

On Monday and Wednesday, two stores in St. Petersburg were robbed at gunpoint by two masked men. The clerks, who are brothers, were shot even though they cooperated with the robbers. One was treated and released from the hospital; relatives on Friday said the other was improving at Bayfront Medical Center.

Silva was the only one to make it out of an armed robbery unharmed. Will he face charges for shooting?

"Probably not," said Lt. N. Patterson. The State Attorney's Office will review the case and make the final call.

• • •

Silva was perched behind the counter Saturday, as he has been for the four months since he opened the store. His friend Greg Damron, 33, was standing by the beer cooler in the squeezing-room-only convenience store.

Damron had stopped by about 10 minutes before the 8 p.m. closing to chat about the Gators, buy a sandwich and help stock beer.

Silva said he threw out his back as a Merchant Mariner in January. A former chef, he decided to try a more modest business enterprise than his last venture, a restaurant.

That's how he ended up the proud American owner of John's Variety at 208 Fourth St. N.

Just before closing, the two men burst in. Their faces were covered. One stood in the corner of the door like a lookout, the other leveled a .45-caliber gun at him.

They demanded cash and ordered Silva to get down.

He did, snatching his gun from a shelf behind the glass counter. He came right back up and pointed Betsy at them. The men fled. Silva chased them out the door, firing three shots.

"I don't give up easy," Silva said.

A nearby police officer on patrol heard the shots. Officers swarmed the blocks between the store and Mirror Lake.

The suspects' names were not released Saturday night. The man who ended up in the lake suffered minor injuries from a dog bite. He was treated at Edward White Hospital and released into police custody.

• • •

Two hours after using Betsy to protect his store, sitting behind the counter and chain-smoking Marlboro Reds, Silva credited his small-arms training as a Merchant Mariner for his cool response Saturday night.

For about seven years, he sailed around the world, collecting souvenirs like the two gold earrings hanging from his left lobe.

Since he opened John's Variety, he's kept the gun behind the counter. He can't remember how long he's had it — years, he says.

Will he make any security improvements?

"A bigger gun."

Will he consider closing?

Silva answered with a curse word. The clean version: "No."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

1. Star Deli, 2451 Fifth Ave. N

Narendra Patel, 53, was shot around 10:30 p.m. Monday. The gunman shot him three times after he emptied the register.

2. Suhani, 2539 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

Indravadan Patel, 46, was shot in the stomach at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday. A gunman shot Patel as he leaped over the counter to get to the register..

3. John's Variety, 208 Fourth St. N

Owner John Silva, 53, fired three shots at two masked men who tried to rob his store at 8 p.m. Saturday. Silva was not hurt.

To read about the previous robberies, go to

St. Petersburg store owner fires at masked robbers 12/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Bruno Mars' charisma glitters like gold at Tampa's Amalie Arena


    Nothing in this world should be as easy as Bruno Mars makes it look. Not singing, not dancing, and certainly not playfully seducing more than 17,500 starry-eyed Tampa fans with one of pop music’s best bands at your back.

    Bruno Mars performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Oct. 19, 2017.
  2. Mikhail Sergachev scores twice as Lightning shuts out Blue Jackets (w/ video)

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev said he blacked out for a few seconds after his first NHL goal Thursday night, a rocket slap shot from the point.

    Mikhail Sergachev, front, looks like he’s very in the moment with teammate Dan Girardi after scoring his first NHL goal, though he says he blacked out for a bit. He scores again in the second.
  3. Dodgers rout Cubs 11-1 to win pennant, head to World Series for first time since '88


    CHICAGO — Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

    The Dodgers celebrate their Game 5 victory Thursday night over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, putting Los Angeles in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
  4. Another suspicious death in Tampa's Seminole Heights


    TAMPA — Police were investigating what they were calling a suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night, near the location of two fatal shootings last week.

    Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan addresses reporters about the latest suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
  5. Duke tops preseason coaches' basketball poll; Gators No. 7


    Duke has been tabbed basketball's preseason No. 1 for the second straight season in the coaches' poll, released Thursday.

    Florida point guard Chris Chiozza launches the shot of last season’s NCAA Tournament, a winning 3
against Wisconsin that put the Gators into the Elite Eight. Chiozza returns to lead a UF team that’s getting its share of preseason attention, including a No. 7 ranking in the coaches’ poll.