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Three dead, one wounded in unrelated Tampa shootings

TAMPA

The first shooting followed an argument over a stolen bicycle.

The second took place in a car with two men and drugs inside.

The third interrupted a frontyard card game.

The fourth followed a robbery behind a grocery store.

It all happened in just over three hours Wednesday night. Three people died, the youngest a Middleton High senior. A fourth was wounded. Dozens of witnesses scattered. And two victims described their attackers as they lay dying.

"Chris shot me," 25-year-old Anthony Prather said, according to Ash Mustafa, a witness at the gas station where Prather suffered a fatal shot to the neck. "He's the last number called in my phone."

Gregory Allen Jr., 17, and Marc Robert Strode, 20, both of Tampa, also died Wednesday. Authorities said the three unrelated homicides made for an unusually bloody night.

"I've never had three before," said Chris Moody, a veteran Hillsborough County prosecutor on call Wednesday night.

On Thursday, Tampa police and Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives had not made any arrests but said they were pursuing witnesses. They asked for friends of the victims and others to come forward and tell them what happened.

"We have an aggressive manhunt under way in both cases," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said of the two shootings in the city limits. "We have good leads in both cases."

• • •

The first shooting took place at 5:37 p.m. in front of a vacant building on N 26th Street.

Shortly before, Gregory Allen Jr. had been in Desoto Park a few blocks to the south where there was an argument over a stolen bicycle. McElroy said it wasn't clear who owned the bicycle, but there was a large crowd in the park, and Allen ran north.

At 201 N 26th St., two young men walking a white pit bull puppy approached Allen, of 8719 Mandarine Place, and shot him in the chest.

The shooters ran away, but Allen was conscious and able to give officers limited descriptions when they arrived. He was taken to Tampa General Hospital and died about 4 1/2 hours later.

Thursday morning, more than 100 students sought comfort from a school district crisis intervention team deployed to Middleton High School.

"What we saw here was sadness, some shock . . . a little bit of anger," school psychologist Jeff Smith said. "They seemed really, really to love this kid. He was popular."

Students remembered Allen as kind, helpful and happy-go-lucky.

"He loved to make people laugh," said freshman Kiana Spragins, 14, one of scores of students who signed banners with messages to and about Allen.

"You'll always live on through the many friends you've had," one wrote.

• • •

The second shooting took place at the Citgo station at 2245 E Fletcher Ave. A videocamera in the area caught the violence.

The video, viewed by a Times reporter, shows that a white sedan circled the pumps and parked behind a truck at the far edge of the parking spaces at the convenience store.

Two men appeared to get out of the sedan as Anthony Prather's Cadillac pulled up to pump 2.

One tall, shadowy figure got into the passenger's side of the Cadillac. The other walked into the store talking on a cell phone.

Witnesses told Citgo employees they heard a bang before Prather stumbled out of the driver's side, tried to find his balance and moved toward the front of the store, clutching his shirt with one hand and waving the other.

"It was like a movie," said Ash Mustafa, 23. "He was moving in slow motion."

Prather took off his shirt and dropped to the ground as a crowd gathered and called for help. The man who got out of the sedan and went into the store while on his cell phone can be seen approaching Prather, then walking away and standing with the crowd. Witnesses say he left before deputies arrived.

Prather, bleeding from the neck, clutching his wound and spitting up blood, told Mustafa that Chris, the last man he called, had shot him. Then he asked the crowd to call his mother. Mustafa and others said deputies arrived within three minutes, but an ambulance took longer.

Prather, of 5035 Southampton Circle, died at a local hospital.

Deputies said Prather's death could be drug-related because drugs were found in his car. State records show he was released from prison in late 2007 after serving a 20-month sentence on charges that included possession of cocaine and resisting an officer with violence.

Prather's younger sister described him as amazing.

"No matter what has been said about him, he was a great person," Nikki Diaz said. "I could not ask for a better brother."

• • •

The third shooting took place at 8:33 p.m. at 4309 W Arch St.

Police said Marc Strode of 703 E 131st Ave. was sitting in front of the house playing cards with friends at an outdoor table when a dark car, possibly a Grand Marquis or Crown Victoria, with a loud muffler pulled up.

Two men got out brandishing semi-automatic pistols and told the card players to strip, intending to rob them, police said. One gunman fired a shot in the air, and everyone ran trying to escape. More gunfire erupted.

A slug caught Strode in the back, police said. He was rushed into surgery in critical condition at St. Joseph's Hospital and died about 11 p.m.

• • •

The fourth shooting took place at 8:42 p.m. behind the Publix at Waters Avenue and Hanley Road, sheriff's officials said.

As three men walked behind the store, two men with pistols confronted them and said it was a robbery.

The three men ran, and both robbers began firing. Alexandro Lopez Jimenez, 19, caught bullets in the elbow, side and buttocks. He was taken to the hospital, and authorities said he was expected to survive.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

whom to contact

To help

• Tampa police are asking anyone with information about the deaths of Gregory Allen or Marc Strode to call (813) 231-6130.

• Hillsborough County sheriff's officials ask anyone with information about the death of Anthony Prather or the shooting of Alexandro Lopez Jimenez to call (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.

Three dead, one wounded in unrelated Tampa shootings 11/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 11:51pm]

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