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Sisters slain in Apollo Beach

Published Sep. 28, 2005

(ran LT, ET editions of NATIONAL)

Isela Gonzalez never saw the man who shot her from behind as she cooked in her family's restaurant Sunday afternoon, with her mother working nearby.

Deputies say the gunman was her stepfather _ who also shot and killed her 11-year-old half-sister, Donna Berezovsky, in the family's home a few blocks away in the south Hillsborough community of Apollo Beach, near Ruskin. It wasn't clear who was shot first, investigators said.

The gunman, 35-year-old Pedro Hernandez-Alberto, is married to Carmen Hernandez, who owns the Apollo Family Restaurant at 100 Flamingo Drive, police said. He hadn't been found as of late Sunday.

About 1 p.m. Sunday, 14-year-old Mirna Cruz was washing dishes at the busy restaurant when she heard gunshots and turned to see the 29-year-old Gonzalez slump to the kitchen floor. Hernandez-Alberto, she said, then walked quickly away.

"He just went right outside and I went and saw what he had done," Cruz said. "I just saw her (Gonzalez) coming down like she couldn't stand up no more, and I just saw blood coming out of her."

Hernandez-Alberto, she said, never said a word.

"He just looked like he was scared."

Paramedics flew Gonzalez to Tampa General Hospital, where she died. Meanwhile, just blocks away, friends working on the family's van found Hernandez-Alberto's 11-year-old stepdaughter, Donna Berezovsky, shot to death inside the family's home. Her 2-year-old sister was crying nearby. The toddler, who is Hernandez-Alberto's daughter with Carmen Hernandez, was not hurt.

A sheriff's spokeswoman said Hernandez-Alberto, who had no prior criminal history in Hillsborough County, was considered armed and dangerous.

"We have enough probable cause to say he just shot and killed two people," said Detective Lisa Haber. "He has obviously fled, and doesn't want to be caught."

Sheriff's officials posted an alert for Hernandez-Alberto, whom they describe as a Hispanic man, 5 feet 7 and 250 pounds. They said he fled in a 1987 white, four-door Oldsmobile with tinted windows, bearing Florida tag TAJ-94M.

Although his wife was working in the restaurant, Hernandez-Alberto did not try to shoot her, police said. Haber said she couldn't speculate on a motive for the shootings, but she did say the couple have had domestic problems.

At the restaurant, floral panels lined the glass front doors of the quaint diner, whose windows held white lace curtains and flowers in the sills. A sign inside said breakfast is offered all day, with hours usually only 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday afternoon, workers and customers huddled in small groups just outside the restaurant, many of them crying.

One family friend called the shootings "devastating" and offered insight as to Hernandez-Alberto's motives: problems with his wife.

"They were feuding," said Billy Singletary, who said he has known the couple for years. Singletary said his wife, Sheila, was working at her job as a waitress when the shooting hap-pened, and saw Hernandez-Alberto shoot his stepdaughter.

Customer Howard Curth, 68, had just ordered eggs, potatoes and pancakes when he heard what sounded like firecrackers erupt from the kitchen.

"I thought someone would shoot us all, so I ran," said Curth, who is retired and dines frequently at the restaurant. "The cook and the waitresses were all screaming and hollering."

Another customer, 74-year-old Josephine Johnson, arrived moments after the shooting and was shocked to find Hernandez sobbing and covered in her daughter's blood.

Gonzalez was a "lovely girl," Johnson said.

"She was going to school to learn something in computers," she said. "She was a beautiful young lady, very quiet and polite."

Hernandez married Hernandez-Alberto about three years ago, Johnson said, and they had a child together, the 2-year-old.

Residents near the family's home said they never heard of problems from the trim, pale- green stucco home on Fox Run Trail, where a child's pink bicycle leaned against the side of the house and a trampoline sat in the back yard.

Across the street, neighbor Don Richards said he had never seen the police at the home before.

"They were a quiet family," he said.