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Tampa is shaken as murders keep coming

“Something bad must have happened on the bridge," my husband says when he comes home from an early-morning trip to the gym.

I see it as I head to work, at the base of the bridge that connects some of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods to the shiny buildings of downtown: the flashing lights, the pack of police cars, the news trucks, all evidence of something very bad.

University of Tampa student robbed and killed, says the morning headline on, murdered apparently for little more than what he had in his pockets.

He turns out to be a sweet-faced 21-year-old named Ryan McCall who wanted to be a track coach. He regularly ran that same North Boulevard bridge that curves high over the Hillsborough River. He walked it one last time heading home in the early morning hours, when city streets turn more sinister, when police say a robber found him.

This is the saddest thing that could happen, you think.

The next morning, fresh headlines say a good cop was killed in the night, shot dead by someone he had been chasing on another city street 5 miles from where the student died. Even if you have the sort of job in which mayhem is routine, you start to think: What is going on around here?

Right now it's cold comfort to know that crime was actually down 18 percent the first six months of the year in Tampa, given the eight new murders since July.

Eight murders.

Do you add to your disbelief the horror of two small children also dead, brought to a Brandon hospital unconscious and "unresponsive" with high temperatures, a case still under investigation? How do you not?

With her usual dignity, the mayor of Tampa put out a statement about the police officer who was killed, Cpl. Mike Roberts. "May his son grow up knowing that his father was our hero," she said.

We're about to pick new mayors around here, first in St. Petersburg, later in Tampa. It makes you wonder, in that pack of candidates out there, which ones would be able to see to the city when it mattered, to handle a tragedy like this with poise and without politics.

People who know numbers and probabilities and statistics might call it random or coincidence, this sudden spate of tragedy. Still, in newsrooms and police stations, we wait for bad things to happen in a series, often in threes, because, well, they seem to. We count celebrity deaths or school shootings or, after a blessedly quiet few months of hurricane season, when storms stack up.

A long time back, some police agencies had on the criminal report forms a box you checked off along with suspect name and location of offense: phase of moon. An old cop I knew swore bad crime went up with the full moon. Anything to make sense of it.

I am driving home toward the bridge the night the boy was killed. (In smiling pictures in the news, he still seems like a boy, a son, a brother.) I pass the high school on the south end. In a couple of days, teenagers hefting backpacks will be walking over that bridge to get here. I cross over to the other side, passing where he died.

Police, I know, are working vigilantly to solve his case. But now there is no sign of what happened here, no sirens or crime scene tape. Just the cars passing, the darkening sky overhead and the river moving steadily on below.

Tampa is shaken as murders keep coming 08/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 7:56am]
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