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Gem show intruder is shot, slain by guard

A security guard shot and killed an armed man who broke into a jewelry show at the Coliseum early Sunday, police said. A second suspect fled the scene.

The two men pried open a back door to the Coliseum about 2:30 a.m., setting off the alarm, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Doniel. The on-duty security guard was inside the building and confronted the suspects, who pointed their handguns at him.

The guard fired several shots at the men, who were wearing ski masks, Doniel said. One man was wounded, while the other fled the Coliseum at 535 Fourth Avenue N.

The wounded man was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he died. His handgun was recovered at the scene. Police are searching for the second suspect, who is probably armed.

Doniel said the dead suspect has been tentatively identified as a 31-year-old Hispanic male from outside the Tampa Bay area. His name and the name of the 44-year-old security guard are not being released pending further investigation, police said.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office will review the shooting, which is standard procedure. Police had not determined late Sunday if the suspects fired their weapons.

The guard "was pretty much defending himself," said Justin Bulger, one of the owners of S & S Security in Sarasota, which provides security for the show. Bulger said he talked to the security guard after the incident.

"They were raising their guns at him and said, "You're not the . . . police,' and that's when everything went down," Bulger said.

Vendors at the Gem, Jewelry and Bead Show, which ended Sunday, said they were shaken by the shooting.

Randal and Cheryle Smith, co-owners of Crystal Fantasies, Inc. in Largo, found bullet holes in the sheets covering their booth, in three display lamps, and in a wooden jewelry carrying case.

The security guard probably used their booth as a shield while firing shots at the suspect, Randal Smith said, pointing to a bullet hole in a nearby pillar.

Cheryle Smith said $300 worth of turquoise strands were shattered by the bullets.

"It's a little nerve-wracking," she said.

Detectives will likely interview vendors to see if the dead suspect had been at the show earlier, Doniel said.

"We don't know if he had been here before, cased the joint or what," said Frank Cox, whose company, Sarasota-based Frank Cox Productions, promotes the jewelry show.

The show typically attracts between 4,000 and 5,000 people, Cox said. The 35 vendors sell items ranging from rocks to pricey jewelry.

"Thirty-five years in the business, I've never had anything like this before, not even an attempted break-in," said Cox, who plans to return to the Coliseum for a Thanksgiving jewelry show.

The security guard had never fired his gun before, Bulger said. Cox said the guard was shook up and was sent home to Sarasota.

Bulger said he's often on the lookout for suspicious customers. The security guards then follow them and write down their tag numbers, just in case.

"It could be anybody," he said. "You never know."

Anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious is asked to call Detective Rick Shaw at (727) 893-4937.