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Shootings shock a close-knit, safe city

Frank Dean drops by Suzie Q's Diner just about every morning for his cup of coffee. He and the other regulars chat about the day's news.

On Friday, the big story was too close to home.

One day earlier, a man walked into a real estate office in the same strip center as the diner and shot and killed one of its owners. He also shot an employee. She survived. Then he shot and killed himself, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"The ripple effect of this is enormous," said Eva Jones, 65, a longtime resident whose massage therapy office is two doors down from the crime scene. "People all of a sudden wanted to be home with their families. That's Seminole, you see: Something happens and everyone converges."

Dean, 73, found out about the shootings at ERA Professional Realtors by watching the news on television.

"That can't be happening here," said Dean, former owner of Seminole Shoe Repair, which sits between the diner and the real estate office in Bayridge Shopping Center.

"We don't hear of someone getting killed in Seminole."

Dean's right.

There have been two murders in the Seminole area since 1999, said Tim Goodman, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. In the same period, Largo had 14. St. Petersburg, 100.

Serious crimes here are rare. When they do happen, they stand out.

In May 2001, sheriff's deputies discovered two bodies buried in the back yard of their caretaker. Authorities don't know how the women died or how long they had been dead, but they say Barbara Gotsis most likely put them in the ground.

Investigators couldn't question her about the deaths because she died a month earlier while trying to hang a tire swing near the graves.

In May 2002, Robert J. Goldstein, a Seminole podiatrist who lived in a townhome across the street from the strip center on Seminole Boulevard, stockpiled an elaborate arsenal, including 20 homemade bombs, a .50-caliber rifle, handguns and antiarmor rockets. He planned to kill local Muslims.

He was found guilty and sent to federal prison for 12 years and seven months.

In August 2002, William Seegert, wearing a blond wig and a big pair of black sunglasses, got behind the wheel of a rented Oldsmobile Alero and ran down his next-door neighbor, Richard Jones.

Jones survived but was seriously injured. Two months later, Seegert was killed in a shootout with police officers in California.

The city's two murders were both shootings.

Sheriff's detectives say Carlos Martin-Gonzalez was killed last August when two men entered his apartment at the Buena Vista complex and shot him because of a dispute over an $8,000 debt associated with a business in Puerto Rico.

The second happened Thursday at the real estate office at 8970 Seminole Blvd. Authorities say James A. Webb, 56, of Largo, shot and killed Tracy Sells, 42, a former Seminole resident who lived in Safety Harbor. Webb also shot employee Perinne McVey, 38, of Port Richey. Webb's girlfriend, 65-year-old Zelma Kougl, had recently been fired by the agency.

When detectives arrived on the scene Thursday afternoon, they were unsure if a gunman was on the loose.

They closed busy Seminole Boulevard from 102nd Avenue N to Park Boulevard. Four helicopters circled overhead and deputies swarmed the area. Seminole Elementary School on Park Boulevard went into a lockdown.

Employees at RE/MAX Affiliates, just blocks from ERA, feared for their lives. They wondered if the shooter had a vendetta against real estate agents.

"We're thinking, "Oh, my God, he was just there,' " said office manager Linda Smith, 30. " "Is he going to come here?' "

Eva Jones, the massage therapist, recalled for television and newspaper reporters how deputies had banged on her suite door and ordered everyone inside to evacuate. Jones, who in 2001 was the Chamber of Commerce's Ms. Seminole, waited with other tenants who were watching the crime scene from the end of the shopping center.

On Friday, as Jones waited for her first client, a friend stopped by. "I just came to see how you were today," said Dr. Sandra Lilo, who has a dental office on 113th Street.

Mayor Dottie Reeder attended a kickoff for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life on Thursday evening. Talk of the shootings circulated among the crowd.

"It was a little bit of a buzz," she said Friday. "Those other communities get used to (big crimes), but we just don't have it."

"That was a shocker," said seamstress Joan Rasico, 74, who, like Frank Dean, drinks her morning coffee at Suzie Q's. "It does not seem possible."

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