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ATM user shot in holdup

A 35-year-old man was shot in the face Sunday night as he was withdrawing money from an ATM machine, Tampa police said.

Charles Cecil of Tampa, who works at Busch Gardens, was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was in critical condition Sunday night.

The incident was the latest in a string of robberies at automated teller machines this year that Tampa police believe are being committed by juveniles. Youths in past robberies have displayed guns but have not fired.

Cecil became the latest victim at about 8:20 p.m. when he went to the ATM machine at the First Union Bank at the intersection of Busch Boulevard and 52nd Street. As he put his card in the ATM machine, he was confronted by three youths.

Police were not certain what happened next, but at some point Cecil was shot in the mouth, said Sgt. Phil Ray.

The three youths fled with Cecil's wallet as he staggered to the street to call for help, Ray said. Police were still searching for the youths late Sunday night.

Witnesses said the robbers were black, appeared to be between 13 and 17 years old, and were wearing bandanas around their heads and baggy shorts.

Police found the ATM card still in the machine, and later recovered the victim's wallet. They would not reveal what, if anything, was missing from the wallet.

A woman and her boyfriend used the same ATM machine just moments before the attack, and said they remembered seeing the three youths.

"We saw the guys walk down the street," the woman said. "I was scared."

At least 20 robberies have occurred at ATM machines in Tampa since Dec. 31, authorities have reported. Most of the robberies have occurred between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. at machines alongside bank branches. Some branches have been targeted more than once.

Police believe the robberies are being committed by more than one group of teenagers.

In past robberies, victims have turned over money and jewelry to the robbers. But none of the previous victims was injured.

"They want money, you go to an ATM, and it's immediate cash," Ray said.

Because of the recent incidents, police have been warning people to refrain from using ATMs after dark and to use safety measures at all times.

"It provides a perfect opportunity to get robbed," Ray said. "If I had a hundred dollars in my hand and someone pointed a gun at me, I'd have to give it to them."

Police give these suggestions for people who use ATMs:

Refrain from visiting ATM machines alone.

Use machines located in well-lighted areas where there is a lot of activity and traffic, such as a 24-hour supermarket.

Finish your business quickly.

Check the area carefully.

Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole suggested ATM users think about the area as if they were a robber and ask themselves, "If I were a robber, would I stake out this ATM?"

_ Information from a story by Janey Shelton Rogers was used in this report.