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A year later, pain remains

Relatives, employees and paramedics try to cope with the Radisson shootings that left five dead.

She doesn't like to dwell. Misery is terrible company, Katrease James knows. But try as she might, there is no sugarcoating the loss.

Holding her job as a claims adjuster has been about all she could manage in the past year. Her house is but a memory, lost when she could no longer keep up the payments without her husband's income. Christmas, it seems, will be forever punctured by sadness.

"This year my 4-year-old kept asking me, "If daddy comes back alive, will he bring me a poochie?' I try to cope, but things like that, they set you back," James said.

One year ago today, James lost her husband of 12 years, Eric Pedrosa, in a hail of gunfire at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel that left four dead and three wounded. Another woman would die later when the man charged in the shootings, a laundry worker named Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva, fled the hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway and demanded her car in West Tampa. She refused, and he shot her, police say.

In a matter of minutes, on a sunny afternoon a day before New Year's Eve, people whose paths had never intersected found their lives linked by a stunning act of random violence.

There was the young bellman who stared down the barrel of the killer's gun, yet was spared. The paramedic who longs to thank the unknown woman who crawled from her hiding place at the hotel to help others. The husband of the hotel worker who hid in the office and escaped.

They now wait for Feb. 26, the day Izquierdo-Leyva, 37, a Cuban refugee who had worked at the hotel only a few months before the shootings, is scheduled to go on trial. He faces 20 charges ranging from first-degree murder to carjacking. He has pleaded not guilty.

Police and prosecutors have struggled to find a link among the victims, other than the Radisson, a common employer shared by some. And since Izquierdo-Leyva has yet to talk about the case to officials, the biggest question remains unanswered: Why?

A brother of Izquierdo-Leyva has described him as "unbalanced" and mentally ill, conditions aggravated by a misguided interest in santeria, a religion rooted in Africa with gods, spirits and sacrifices. Others think he harbored a grudge against his employer and fellow workers.

Whatever the reason, none of the victims had a chance.

"These people were just at work, doing their jobs," said Assistant State Attorney Shirley Williams, who will lead the prosecution of Izquierdo-Leyva. "Some of them didn't even know what hit them."

The tale witnesses at the trial will tell will be a bloody one. They will describe a scene of carnage, where one body lay on a blue lounge chair, another next to the front desk, another by the pool.

"It was worse than a war zone, it was a slaughterhouse," recalled Lt. Troy Basham, one of the first paramedics to arrive. "When we first walked in the door, there was a guy lying there, dying. By the pool I found a body, and then in the kitchen, a guy who had been shot in the face and tried to talk to me."

Wearing full body armor and carrying guns, the paramedics, who did not know if any gunmen remained, went room to room with police in search of victims.

"One poor lady sticks in my mind," Basham said. "(The gunman) ran after her and she heard a click _ he'd run out of ammunition. She ran, hid and came out to help with the guy in the kitchen."

Basham would later learn the man in the kitchen had died.

The case, while not complex in terms of evidence _ there were many witnesses _ is unusual for the number of victims and their families, said Williams, the prosecutor.

"Every time we have a court hearing, the majority of them come," she said. "Some of the family members are very hostile every time the case gets continued. They want it, and they want it now."

For hotel employees who survived that day, the shootings proved to be life-altering.

"I had to do things to make my life right, because you never know when you might lose it," said Rafael Barrios, who was a 20-year-old bellman last year when he pulled up to the Radisson to pick up his paycheck.

As people fled around him, Barrios watched in horror as Izquierdo-Leyva pointed his gun at him and pulled the trigger.

"I could actually see his finger pull the trigger," Barrios recalled. But the gun did not fire, and he ran into the hotel. He emerged to find Izquierdo-Leyva driving away in Barrios' car.

Today Barrios, who never returned to his job at the Radisson, is a University of South Florida student majoring in criminology and psychology.

"I feel more blessed," he said. "There might be something I have to do later in my life that God left me here for."

Denise Hunter, who was working in reservations the day of the shootings, struggles to put the nightmare behind her.

"There's been plenty of sleepless nights," said Brett Hunter, her husband.

As his wife hid in her office, Hunter said, Izquierdo-Leyva ran past her door. To this day, he said, she can recall the sound of the gunshots and cringe.

Even for those trained and practiced in the job of sifting through scenes of violence, the Radisson shootings took a toll.

It took a while, paramedic Basham said, to realize the aftershocks of the shootings were affecting not only his health, but also his marriage.

"The whole month of January was hard on us," he said of his wife of eight years, Danita Basham, also a paramedic.

"This stuff stacks up, and if you don't deal with it, it eats at you," he said.

James, the widow of one of the shooting victims, has tried to lead life as it once was for the sake of her four children. She still takes them to the steakhouse her husband loved.

And yet, everything has changed.

She and her children now shuttle between relatives' homes. There are frequent counseling sessions. Death is no longer a unspoken topic.

"I let them talk about it," she said. "I don't shush them."

But listening is a strain. "Sometimes I just want to give up," she said. "But I don't because of my kids."

_ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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