RIVERVIEW — Neighbors say Vader has always been a very good boy.
From the time he was a puppy, the now 7-year-old Siberian Husky mix has been a fixture in the lives of residents on Hoffner Edge Drive, a tight-knit, out of the way corner in Riverview's sprawling Summerfield Village subdivision.
Whenever the other dogs come out to play, Vader makes sure they wait for the new dog next door to join the pack before they wander down the street collecting pats, belly rubs and treats. Vader has hardly ever missed an impromptu street basketball game. Neighbors never mind when he shows up in their yards, or dining rooms, unannounced.
So when the subdivision's security guard shot Vader in his front lawn early Thursday morning, his neighbors rushed to his defense, launching a Go Fund Me page to pay for his medical bills and spreading social media campaigns demanding "Justice for Vader."
His owners, David Zimmerman, 51, and his girlfriend Kelley Hill, 32, say they struggle to understand what happened that night, when a Critical Intervention Services, Inc. security guard said their dog charged towards him as he ticketed Hill's car for being parked on a curb.
But what haunts them is everything that could have gone wrong, Hill said.
It was just before 1 a.m. on Thursday when Zimmerman got up to let his three dogs outside before bed. Vader was the first out the door, and Zimmerman was just a few steps behind him when he said he heard the first of four bullets whiz past his body towards his front door. A licensed gun owner, Zimmerman bolted to his truck and raised his gun towards the guard, whom he said was dressed in black without any visible identification.
They remained locked in a stalemate, holding the other at gunpoint, until deputies arrived and confiscated Zimmerman's weapon, he said.
Sheriff's deputies later found the four bullet casings spread across Zimmerman's lawn, he said, two of which veered into neighboring properties to the right and left of their home.
"We're surrounded by families with young children and it all happened so quickly. Someone easily could have been killed," Hill said. "You can't just fire a gun at somebody's yard in a residential street, and if you're a security guard afraid of dogs maybe you're not in the right job. I worry they have a pot on the stove that's ready to boil over and they don't even know it."
Vader was still in the driveway when a bullet struck his chest, piercing his lung and shattering the bone in his left leg near his shoulder. When he turned to run back inside the house, the dog was shot a second time in the back, Zimmerman said. That bullet is still lodged inside the dog's body, he said.
Vader remained in critical condition at a nearby veterinarian's office Saturday afternoon and is scheduled to undergo several surgeries on Tuesday. First, though, the couple has to pay more than $13,000 in medical bills up front, he said.
"We're reasonable people," Zimmerman said. "If we thought Vader had really attacked or threatened him, of course we would take responsibility. But this wasn't my dog's fault. My dog is not vicious. I was right there and I know Vader didn't do anything wrong."
Founded in 1992, CIS has provided security guards throughout the Summerfield neighborhood on and off for 10 years, said Hector Rodriguez, the company's chief of protective services.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did not return calls Saturday evening. Zimmerman said a lead investigator had yet to be assigned to the case. Summerfield's homeowners association could not be reached for comment.
Rodriguez said the deputies Zimmerman called to the scene ruled the shooting an act of "justifiable force" and would not be charging their security officer. Rodriguez said the guard was ticketing Hill's car for violating a "no-parking overnight rule" when the dog ran directly toward the guard, who he said has 10 years experience in the U.S. Army. The guard has worked with Critical Intervention Services for almost one year, Rodriguez said. The guard is not hurt, Rodriguez said.
"It was a beeline straight to him," Rodriguez said. "He had nowhere to retreat to."
He also praised the guard for showing "amazing restraint" after the dog's owner pulled a gun on him.
"He's a dog lover and he was emotional after the event," Rodriguez said.
Across the street, neighbor Jacqueline Linjewile, 38, said her 15-year-old daughter watched from her kitchen window as the dog yelped in pain and turned to run back in the house. Even after several days of scattered rain, blood still speckled Zimmerman's driveway.
"Honestly, this street is like a family — these dogs are our dogs and these kids are our kids," she said. "We've lived here 10 years and never seen police on this street. When my kids heard Vader was shot they both were crying, the kids across the street were all crying, it was a nightmare. And now they're afraid to go play outside because they don't want to get shot.
"Honestly, I'm afraid for them too," Linjewile said.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.