TAMPA — A University of Tampa student-athlete was shot to death Wednesday morning at the base of a bridge he regularly crossed during training runs over the Hillsborough River.
Ryan P. McCall, 21, a senior and aspiring track coach, was walking home with a buddy after leaving the Retreat Lounge when police say a stranger approached them on Eugene Holtsinger Bridge, demanding money.
As Michael Harahan, 21, ran from the holdup to get help, a shot rang out, police said.
The 3 a.m. slaying came just days before the beginning of the school year.
People who knew McCall said he was a jovial friend, a strong student and mentor, a loyal teammate and a beloved son.
His killer remains on the loose.
The family called a news conference in Pasco County for 3 p.m., and that's when it began to storm. McCall's father, Kevin McCall, asked reporters to gather under the awning near his front door. He and his wife, Joanne, moved to Holiday two years ago from Pennsylvania to be closer to their boys.
Their eldest, also named Kevin, is now 25. He graduated from UT in 2006.
"My brother, Ryan McCall, had his life viciously taken away from him by a cold-blooded killer," Kevin read from a statement he had spent the afternoon writing.
None of this felt real to him. The brothers were best friends, talking at least a few times a day.
On Tuesday, Ryan and their dad helped Kevin move into his new South Tampa apartment. It was the last time they saw Ryan.
"Our family and friends plan to do everything we can to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to find this killer who took this amazing young man out of this world and out of all of our lives," the brother said.
The family asked for the public's help. They talked of Ryan in the present tense.
"He does the right thing …"
"He is the kind of kid every parent wants …"
"He hasn't had enough of life yet …"
Ryan McCall spent the summer with his parents and working at Sweetbay.
On Friday, he moved into an off-campus house near N Boulevard with four other guys.
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Ben Mozier, 20, was asleep in the four-bedroom rental when the commotion over his roommate's shooting started.
A distraught Harahan roused the others and, police said, called 911. The friends ran back to the scene.
Police and paramedics roped off the darkened area with yellow crime scene tape. McCall's lean runner's body lay under a white sheet not far from a construction site and a row of oak trees.
Hours later, Mozier stood on the front porch of his new home, a place he has lived only four days.
He said McCall and Harahan, who was visiting from Philadelphia, had been out celebrating a friend's 21st birthday. They got a ride to the Retreat and decided to walk back.
As he stood there, Mozier called a couple of friends to check in. One was at a grief counselor on campus.
"We're just trying to wrap our heads around it," he said, "trying to figure out why."
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The route from Retreat Lounge to McCall's home stretches about 2 miles by car, less by foot.
The bar's neon-red sign glows just a block away from UT's landmark Plant Hall minarets.
If McCall and Harahan followed a predictable route, they might have walked across campus, where security patrols and light poles and emergency call boxes dot walkways, past Pepin/Rood Stadium, where McCall trained with the track and field team. He was on a mission, his coach said, to beat his two-minute record in the 800-meter dash.
On N Boulevard, the path home gets slightly less secure. Subsidized housing lines the west side of the street, a walled-off Tampa Preparatory School is on the east.
The street passes Riverfront Park, under an overpass and past North Boulevard Homes, a large public housing project across from Blake High School.
Steve Auda, 23, a UT senior who lives in a house not far from McCall's, said he'd never walk the route at dark but knows kids do.
"One thing about Tampa," said Matt Ferrall, 21, who is crashing on Auda's couch until student housing opens next week, "it's hit or miss."
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An exercise science major, McCall coached 40 students on the Tampa Prep varsity team last spring between classes and working part time at Publix.
Classes start at Tampa Prep today, and athletic director Carol Chalu said she's already answering calls from students.
"He left a lot of good things here in just one year," she said.
Police describe the shooter as a black man in his 30s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 180 pounds with a husky build and a goatee. He wore a white T-shirt. Anyone with information is asked to call Tampa police at (813) 276-3200.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.