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Stop in store was homeless man's last

ST. PETERSBURG — A homeless customer who was shot during a robbery at a St. Petersburg convenience store has died.

Ronald Hayworth, was the second person killed in Sunday's robbery inside the Central Food Mart at 2157 Central Ave. Hayworth was pushed to the ground and shot in the head, presumably because he was a witness, police said.

Hayworth, 50, along with store owner Mohammad Uddin, 44, who died Monday, bring the city's murder total to 18 for the year, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt. A third man, Albert Barton, 66, was shot three times. He was in fair to good condition at Bayfront Medical Center on Wednesday.

Police anticipate that Khadafy Mullens, 24, and Spencer Peeples, 27, arrested hours after the robbery, will now face two counts of first-degree murder.

Hayworth and Barton were regulars at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic Beacon House, which is next to the store. Beacon House director Brent Jenkins said Barton was a resident but declined to comment further, citing privacy concerns.

Hayworth ate dinner at the shelter sometimes, he said. On Wednesday, some of the dinner guests said Hayworth was a quiet man who kept to himself and didn't cause trouble. Vito McKie, a dispatch agent at Pacesetter Personnel Services, said Hayworth had steady construction work for the past four months. He even tried to find work on Sunday before he was shot.

"He's a good guy trying hard to stay good," McKie said.

At times, a rough crowd frequented the store. Alcohol consumption on the sidewalk was common. Records show police visited the store more than 50 times since January.

Uddin installed a new surveillance system after he was robbed and mugged in May, said Mohammad Hossain, 39, a good friend. The video helped police figure out what happened Sunday, Proffitt said.

The attackers stole cash, cigarettes and lottery tickets, police said. After the robbery, Mullens left the store to check if Peeples was ready with the getaway car, police said. When Mullens came back, he saw Uddin calling police. Mullens shot Uddin in the head and then shot Hayworth, police said. When Barton walked in, Mullens shot him as well.

News of the deaths shocked residents and neighboring businesses. Most described Uddin as a friendly man who greeted customers with a smile, kept the store stocked with their favorites, and let them pay him later if they were short of cash.

Kenny Larrison, 47, a resident of historic Kenwood, shopped at Uddin's store. He was so disturbed by the murders that he has decided to buy a gun and take shooting courses.

"I'm absolutely shocked. I can't say it enough," he said. "I'm 21/2 blocks away, and when I hear about three people getting shot and two dead … that's pretty close. I'm nervous."

The store was closed Wednesday. Bouquets of flowers lay on the curb outside the padlocked door. One note read: "Mohammad was a kind, brave, hardworking man. He represents that which makes America great. You will be missed."

Hossain, who worked the morning shift at the store, said he doesn't know when it will reopen. "No one wants to open it," he said. "Everyone is scared. Me too."

Uddin's wife and two young children ages 6 and 2 are trying to heal, Hossain said. Uddin's daughter started kindergarten Wednesday. Uddin's motivation for working so hard was to make sure his children would have a good education, Hossain said.

"I was hoping it wasn't this guy," said customer Jacob Christiano, 35. "He was just calling police. It's what any one of us would have done."

Christiano's chalk art on the sidewalk outside the store summed up what many people were feeling: "R.I.P. We'll miss you!"

Times staff writer Casey Cora contributed to this report.

Stop in store was homeless man's last 08/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:26pm]
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