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Drama invades mobile home park

Dora Russell was sitting on the back porch, slipping on shoes, when the phone rang inside her mobile home.

A neighbor was calling to warn her about a gunman loose in the neighborhood. Lock your doors, the neighbor said. He's out there.

When Mrs. Russell turned around, the gunman was standing behind her. He grabbed the phone, telling the neighbor that everything was okay because he was a police officer.

"I figured I might get a damn bullet in my back," Mrs. Russell said, "but I told myself that I've got to get out of here."

Within minutes, she managed to run out the back door, a turquoise slipper on one foot and a white walking shoe on the other. By then, the neighbor on the phone had waved down an officer and police had surrounded the Russells' mobile home.

They persuaded the gunman to surrender. Dexter Mitchell was taken into custody and charged with multiple counts of assault and burglary. He also was charged with pistol-whipping his estranged wife, then fleeing police.

The incident began about 4:10 p.m. at 375 50th Ave. N when Mitchell went to the duplex apartment where his estranged wife, Roselena, had lived about six months.

Ms. Mitchell, 26, was inside the apartment with a male friend, police said. Mitchell pointed a handgun at the man, then hit his wife with the gun before she ran next door to the Chiropractic Health Center.

Police and witnesses gave this account of what happened next:

Mitchell, 27, followed his estranged wife into the chiropractor's office, pointing the gun at the clinic's staff and hitting his wife again. He ran into the mobile home neighborhood, and police began searching for him.

About 45 minutes later, Officer Douglas Weaver saw him behind Pier 1 Imports on Fourth Street N. Mitchell dashed into a water-filled ditch to cross Fourth Street.

"I saw him, and I didn't have a choice but to follow him in the ditch," Weaver said. "It was waist-deep going in there, but he was that close. I had to go, too."

Mitchell cut through a restaurant parking lot, ran behind a brick fence and down an alley. As a dozen officers joined the search, three streets were blocked off.

Residents watched the commotion from their yards. One man shooed his family inside a house with a no-trespassing sign on its front window, but several people carried umbrellas to block the afternoon rains.

At their mobile home in Gandy Trailer Park, Jim and Dora Russell were getting ready for a quick trip to the nearby Albertsons supermarket. Pears were on sale, and Mr. Russell wanted to buy a National Enquirer.

He was waiting in their Chrysler New Yorker as his wife sat on their back steps. She'd put on one shoe when neighbor Becky Pitt called to tell them to lock their doors.

"There's a man roaming the neighborhood," Pitt told her. But it was too late, the man had followed Mrs. Russell into the mobile home.

"I turned around and he was standing right there behind me. I told Becky that he was here in the house, and that's when he grabbed the phone away from me," said Mrs. Russell, 78.

The man seemed calm, holding the gun in his hand.

"Don't worry," the man told Pitt on the phone. "I'm a police officer. I'm Officer Mitchell."

Two trailers away, the 69-year-old Pitt kept the man on her cordless phone as she walked outside to see police along the street. She held the phone against her shoulder to muffle her voice.

"He's right over there," she tried telling the uniformed officers. "I have him on the phone. He's in my girlfriend's house."

But the officers couldn't hear her, and they told her to get back in the trailer. Finally, an officer walked up. "Did you just say that you have him on the phone?"

Indeed, Pitt said. She put the phone to her ear, but the gunman had hung up.

Back at the Russells' trailer, Mitchell put down the phone and handed the gun to Mrs. Russell.

"Ohhh," she shuddered, holding a gun for the first time in her life. "It was so heavy, it looked so real."

Moments later she passed it to her husband, whom Mitchell had ordered inside the home. But Mitchell took the gun away from Mr. Russell, then pointed it at his own temple and threatened to kill himself.

"No," Mrs. Russell said. "Please don't do that."

Within minutes, Mrs. Russell saw her back door was open and ran faster than she had in years. "I don't even know if my feet hit the ground," she said.

She left the gunman in the kitchen with her pocketbook and her 87-year-old husband. But Mr. Russell didn't stay long. He, too, ran outside to find police surrounding the trailer.

Next door, neighbor May Chenard watched from her bedroom window as police tried coaxing Mitchell outside. Her windows were open, and she could hear them yelling for him to freeze and come out with his hands up.

"I said, 'Oh boy,' " recalled Chenard, 78. "I said to myself if they start shooting, I'm getting on the floor."

Eventually, she watched Mitchell toss his gun through the Russells' front door, tearing the screen. Mitchell was tackled and handcuffed as officers frisked him on the ground, not far from where his gun landed.

Turns out, the gun shoots BBs and pellets.

Lt. Bill Sohl said the gunman eventually would be charged with attacking his estranged wife and pointing the gun at the others. Late Wednesday, after his wife was treated and released from Bayfront Medical Center, Mitchell was held on $15,000 bail at the Pinellas County Jail on charges of armed trespassing and impersonating an officer.

When the Russells returned to their home, neighbors stopped by to check on them, to hear their tale.

Still wearing one blue slipper and one white shoe, Mrs. Russell was drinking a whiskey highball in a tall glass.

"I might need to have another one," she said.