The special service wouldn't start for an hour. But by 5 p.m. Thursday, people were pouring into the church.
Men in dark suits, hoisting toddlers on their hips. Women in high heels, pulling lace veils over their dark hair.
They came from Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, to Florida's largest Syrian Orthodox church. They came to see the church patriarch, to take communion with him, to get his blessing and hear his news....
02/02/17 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — He first saw her onstage, dancing in a silver sequined dress.
He whispered to his friend, "That's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
Taylor Simmons, then 23, had just moved from California to Florida, to play Jack in freeFall Theatre's Into the Woods. Some cast members were being honored at the 2014 Theatre Tampa Bay awards, so he had gone to clap for them at the Palladium. ...
11/01/16 Human Interest
Time capsule: This is a recurring Floridian magazine feature that allows readers to re-experience some of the Tampa Bay Times' best stories with the wisdom of hindsight. Writer Lane DeGregory got a phone call last month about this story, from the children of Dr. Ayestaran. He held on to that box for years, they told her. But he never got close to finding out whose remains were inside, where they came from or where they belonged....
10/28/16 Human Interest
OCKLAWAHA — He called the newsroom with a warning: They can't move that house.
"I'm worried something terrible is going to happen," the man said in a thick New York accent. "I have to warn somebody."
Then he told me a ghost story.
His name is Donald J. Weiss. He's a 62-year-old retired police patrolman from upstate New York. He had moved to Ocala several years ago and visited the house where gangster Ma Barker had been killed. He had wanted to see the site of the longest shootout in FBI history: four hours, more than 2,000 bullets....
ST. PETERSBURG — The dance came from a conversation. About having conversations. Some of the best ones, the two dancers agreed, had been with strangers.
So they started there.
Kellie Harmon, 27, told her friend about a girl she had met on a New York subway. The girl was 6, maybe 7, and asked Kellie if she had any princess songs on her phone.
Crystal DelGiudice, 30, told her friend about a man she met in an Ybor City bar. He looked like some hipster jock but wanted to discuss philosophy and astronomy, the meaning of life....
09/28/16 Human Interest
One night last spring, Gordon Stevenson plugged his name into Google. Up popped a link to an episode of Antiques Roadshow.
"Gordon Stevenson," read the link. "Portrait of a Man Painting, ca. 1940."
His grandfather, his namesake, had been a painter. Gordon had only one of his works, a portrait of his departed dad. It hangs above Gordon's bed in his Tampa home, and was watching over him that night....
07/16/16 Human Interest
ORLANDO — They stood on the second-floor balcony of his townhouse, staring over the chain-link fence, into the parking lot of what's left of Pulse nightclub.
One month to the day after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, cleaning crews scuttled in and out. Police still surrounded the broken building, their red and blue lights striping the streets.
From their perch, Brock Cornelius, 40, and his friend Samantha Stone, 36, watched the throngs stream to the makeshift memorial, cradling daisies, setting up candles, dropping to their knees to pray....
07/10/16 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — After the transplant team finished its rounds, after nurses checked her oxygen level and a doctor came to say: Yes, she would have to have surgery again today, Maddie Price asked her mom to hand her the paisley drawstring bag hanging in her hospital room.
Maddie, 16, struggled to sit up. She was pale and puffy from all the medication. A month earlier, she had received her second new heart and suffered all kinds of complications....
After a lifetime of labor and sleepless nights, a Tampa doctor decides to deliver his last baby, No. 7,35707/01/16 Human Interest
By LANE DeGREGORY | Times Staff Writer
His pregnant patient was progressing slowly at home. So the doctor told her to head to the hospital. He would meet her there.
Dr. Bruce Shephard, 72, walked through his office, where the walls were filled with children's faces.
Sleeping infants, laughing toddlers, gap-toothed grade schoolers, prom princesses. Every age, from a minute old through motherhood....
06/18/16 Human Interest
ORLANDO — Matt Casler didn't recognize his neighborhood as he drove home last Sunday morning.
Cop cars lined every corner. Barricades blocked the streets. Sirens screamed.
A few hours after the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, it had been turned into a war zone.
He steered past armed troopers, beneath hovering helicopters. Dizzy and disoriented, the 18-year-old kept checking his phone: 20 dead so far, and the count would climb....
06/15/16 Human Interest
ORLANDO — The drag queen dressed in all black. For mourning. She stepped onto the stage in her long-sleeved gown, towering in her sequined heels.
At the edge of the stage she stopped. So did the music. She looked into the crowd, which got quiet.
She was supposed to be lip-synching, sashaying down the runway. But since Sunday, she hadn't felt like dancing.
"You all are brave," she told the crowd in Orlando's Parliament House Resort at about 1 a.m. Wednesday. "I know your parents told you not to come out tonight. But you did. And we thank you. We're here to give you a show."...
06/13/16 Human Interest
She wasn't sure, with the rain and all, how many kids would come by. She couldn't sit out on the porch and call them over. It was still too wet.
So on the last day of school, she spread the bulging candy bags across her coffee table, set out cookies, chips, a stack of new $1 bills, and sank into her sofa to wait.
Marian Evette Williams, 59, lives in a one-story bungalow in Childs Park, near the empty corner lot where the neighborhood kids hang out. She knows them all by name, knows who lives where and what school they go to. She fusses at them: "Pick up that trash! Pull up your pants! Stop cussing! Don't give me no sass, now. I'm not playin'!"...
ST. PETERSBURG — All afternoon, they streamed into Alberta's home. Students and professors, kids from the church down the street. A yoga teacher. A tennis pro. Friends from the dog training club.
They came bearing cookies, cheese and wine, a poster to sign. The dean had bought sparkly paint. The Uber driver brought meatloaf.
For five hours, they shared stories and hugs as they said good-bye and wished Alberta a happy, healthy retirement....
05/06/16 Human Interest
CLEARWATER — She sits outside the sewing circle, her plastic chair tipped toward the door. Like all the other inmates, she wears gray scrubs. The dark roots of her honey-colored hair mark the months she has been behind bars.
Michelle Duhamel, 47, had been in jail before.
But since she walked into that Walmart last summer and stole a pineapple, nectarines and a fist full of sports bras, she has lost everything....
04/27/16 Human Interest
In the morning, after driving her kids to school, after twisting silk flowers into her strawberry hair, Sheri Kendrick slides a memory card into her camera and heads to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
She steers to the top of the parking garage, onto the roof, and always takes the sunniest spot.
For a while, she sits in her quiet car, trying to clear her head. Forget about her kids; they're fine. Forget about the rent; the landlord will understand. Forget about that fight with her boyfriend, that session with her therapist. For the next few hours, she has to focus....