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Two victims of Tampa shooting rampage remain in critical condition

Andre Watkins, 53, screams as Hillsborough County deputies take him into the Orient Road Jail early Saturday morning. Watkins is accused of shooting three people, killing one. “He’s mad at the whole world,” said the dead woman’s friend, Tayron Troche.

Luis Santana | Times

Andre Watkins, 53, screams as Hillsborough County deputies take him into the Orient Road Jail early Saturday morning. Watkins is accused of shooting three people, killing one. “He’s mad at the whole world,” said the dead woman’s friend, Tayron Troche.

TAMPA — To neighbors, Andre Watkins was known as "the crazy man."

He'd furiously pace the front yard of the Tampa home he shared with his mother and nephew. He'd stare neighbors down and sometimes make threats. He was arrested in 2008, accused of pulling a gun on a neighbor, but the charges were dropped.

On Friday, sheriff's deputies say Watkins, 53, went on a shooting rampage that left a young woman dead and two men in critical condition. Interviews seem to indicate at least two of the victims were not the intended targets.

"He's mad at the whole world," said Tayron Troche, 23, a friend of shooting victim Alyssa Marie Aracich's. "He made threats. People talk, but he actually did it."

After several hours on the loose, Watkins was caught by deputies at 1 a.m. Saturday at a Plant City gas station as he filled up his tank.

Watkins' shooting rampage started about six hours earlier, at a Kwik Stop convenience store, where he hijacked the car of a man he knew, deputies said. Minutes later, he sprayed bullets across a home in the Plantation subdivision, killing Aracich, 19, an arrest report states.

From there, he went to another home in Plantation and shot Areil Love, 27, in the stomach, sending him to a hospital in critical condition, deputies said. Neighbor Rita Layton said Love's father, Fred Watson, thinks he was the intended target.

"He told me (Watkins) was coming for him, but he wasn't home," Layton said.

Other neighbors voiced the same thought. Watson was the man Watkins pulled a gun on in 2008, said Tom Jones, who recently retired as Plantation's community manager. There was a dispute over the lawn maintenance work Watson was doing at a nearby home, he said.

"He's been trouble," Jones said. "There have been instances with him confronting people at the pool. He was known by everyone."

• • •

Alyssa Aracich often hung out at the home at 10536 Chadbourne Drive. She had been friends with Troche, who lived there, and another man, Manny Nieves, for about five years.

About 6:30 p.m., Aracich, Nieves and another friend were sitting in her red Pontiac Sunfire parked on Chadbourne, about to go to McDonald's.

That's when Watkins arrived. Gunfire broke out.

Nieves and the other man in the car ran — one inside the house, one around the front. Watkins followed them, shooting, an arrest report states.

Watkins quickly left in the hijacked truck, and Nieves returned to the car to find Aracich shot. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

"He never knew her," Nieves, 22, said Saturday. "She was a good friend, a special girl."

Nieves didn't know if he and his roommates were the intended targets. Sure, Watkins had threatened them a couple of times, Troche said, but they didn't take it seriously.

"If I would have known about this, I would have reacted," Troche said. "But we didn't expect nothing."

Meanwhile, Aracich's family is shocked and confused.

Her aunt, Brenda Geoghagan, shared memories of a sassy young woman who graduated from Chamberlain High School and was preparing to become a medical billing specialist.

"She was self-assured. She knew what she wanted, and when she had a plan, she'd put it into action," Geoghagan said. "She loved her friends, animals and her family."

• • •

In Plantation's Wingate section, Watkins was known as an eccentric and often belligerent man who was fastidious with his property and not so careful with his relationships.

Watkins lived in a four-bedroom house owned by his mother, Andray Watkins. A teenager, said to be Andre's nephew, lives there, too.

Watkins had been arrested eight times since 1996 on charges that included drug possession and assault. He has been the object of domestic violence injunctions, and he pleaded guilty in 2002 to grand theft auto and possession of marijuana.

Some neighbors believed he was collecting disability, yet they saw him spend hours at a time washing a succession of luxury cars. Several said he had stared them down or said rude things when he passed them in the street.

"It wouldn't take very much to incite him," said neighbor Betty Jones, wife of Tom Jones. "A problem, or a look … if I saw him, I would not make eye contact with him."

• • •

Deputies say the shooting rampage began about 6:30 p.m., when Watkins met a man at the Kwik Stop convenience store at Linebaugh Avenue and Plantation Boulevard. Watkins recognized the man. They had known each other five years, so the driver let Watkins climb in his Ford F-150.

Once inside, Watkins pulled a handgun from his waistband and ordered the man to drive him to 10536 Chadbourne Drive, deputies said.

After the gunfire at Chadbourne, Watkins ordered the carjacking victim to drive him back to the Kwik Stop. He got into his own car and drove home, deputies said. He then got into his mother's car and went to Brightside Drive, also in the Plantation subdivision.

Watkins knocked on the door of a house on Brightside and shot Areil Love in the stomach when he answered, deputies said. He drove off, and Love walked to a neighbor's house for help.

Chris Dickson, 18, answered the door. He yelled for his mom to call 911. She did. Then she asked Love who shot him.

"I don't know," he replied, Dickson said.

• • •

Deputies said that after Watkins shot Love, he drove to a BP station at 5919 W Linebaugh Ave. There, he shot clerk Akbar Alwani, 57, who is in critical condition, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

She said Watkins knew Alwani, but it was unclear if he knew the clerk simply because he frequented store, or if it was more personal.

Tom Jones, the community manager, said the business was owned by a family that lived in Plantation.

From the gas station, Watkins drove to Town 'N Country, where he confronted Bruce Demetrius Jackson, 32, in a front yard at 8583 Briar Grove Circle. Jackson ran into the house and escaped without injury.

Though that shooting was several miles from Plantation, neighbors pointed out a connection. Jackson sometimes lives in his family's home, near Andray Watkins' home on Wingate Drive, Jones said. Property records show the home is owned by a Selmar and Doris Jackson.

Two doors down on Wingate, family members gathered at Andray Watkins' home. They declined to comment.

But the neighbors who did comment, while shocked at the outcome, said they weren't surprised that Andre Watkins snapped.

Echoing several other neighbors, Tom Jones said, "We always said, when we drove by there and saw him, 'it's just a matter of time.' "

Times researcher John Martin and staff reporter Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Two victims of Tampa shooting rampage remain in critical condition 02/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 11:12pm]
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