TAMPA — A robbery Sunday morning at a Family Dollar turned deadly after a store manager intervened to save his co-worker from the gunman, police said.
Horsley Shorter Jr., 49, who previously had served for 20 years in the military, was shot when a man robbed the store he managed at 4900 N 40th St. in East Tampa just before 9 a.m., Tampa police spokesman Lt. Ronald McMullen said.
The robber was caught on surveillance video, police said, and investigators appealed to the public Sunday to help find him.
The incident began when an armed robber came into the store and demanded money from a clerk behind the counter. Shorter, who was inside his office, was shot when he ran out to help his co-worker, police said.
The robber then forced the clerk at gunpoint into the parking lot, where he stole the clerk's car and used it to escape. Police would not say just what the robber took from the store.
Shorter, who went by "JR," was taken to a hospital but later died.
Nearly 30 friends and family members gathered outside Shorter's house Sunday, sharing stories of the retired Army veteran they said looked out for friends and kids in the neighborhood.
"He's a hero," said neighbor and lifelong friend Demetrious Tolbert. "He went overseas and came back without a scratch. He came home and lost his life in defense of another."
Investigators said they were searching for a white 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage with Florida license tag AMZN75. Police told members of the public not to touch the car if they came into contact with it, but rather to call 911 or the Tampa Police Department at (813) 231-6130.
Shorter is the second retail store employee to be killed while on duty in less than a week in Hillsborough County.
On Wednesday morning, a 7-Eleven clerk, Kenneth Redding, was stabbed to death at the store at 11015 Bloomingdale Ave. in Riverview. After a daylong search, authorities arrested Lawrence Bongiovanni, 20, of Tampa, on a first-degree murder charge. Authorities said he grabbed a stack of scratch-off lottery tickets after killing the clerk and cashed in the winners as he fled south — leading to his capture.
Shorter was born in Georgia and moved to Tampa when he was 6, Tolbert said. He graduated from Tampa Bay Technical High School in 1981. Shorter grew up a tight-knit community where, even though they weren't related by blood, friends called each other family.
"He would stop by every neighbor's house each day and talk to all of our mothers," said Frank Fernandez, who knew Shorter since they were children.
He remembered his friend as a role model and the best wide receiver he ever played football with. They would often play in the street where they grew up.
Neighbors had their children stop in at the Family Dollar daily while Shorter was working, so he could check that they were safe and everything was okay. Shorter had worked there for four years after serving in the military.
"He'd always talk to the kids about going into the military and doing something positive with their lives," Tolbert said. "He told them, 'You're either going to college or going to the military.' "
Shorter was never one to instigate a fight, Tolbert said, but he would do anything he could to defend another. His last words to Tolbert were that "the pen is mightier than the sword," he said.
"He wasn't an aggressor," Tolbert said. "He would always try to talk through things. Even when he found kids trying to steal from the store, he'd pull them aside and talk to them about what they were doing."
Friends said Shorter was close with his co-worker, whom they said Shorter took under his wing.
"That kid looked up to him," friend Marcellus Tolbert said. "I believe that's why that young guy is alive. JR wasn't going to watch nobody die. He gave his life for him."