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Friends say veteran shot at Bay Pines VA was wasting away

Published Oct. 27, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — The man who carried a knife into Bay Pines VA Medical Center Friday night, telling attendants he had a bomb, had been withering away.

Neighbors said Vincent L. Young had lost maybe 100 pounds over seven months — down to 250 or so.

His closest friend, George "Gunny" Kenny, whose husky build and retirement-gut closely matched Young's, could tell that his neighbor was sick. But Young never mentioned it.

Young kept to himself, closed up in his mobile home at the retirement community called Harbor Lights Club. The park is quiet — as was Young. On most days the wind chimes and blowing palms are the loudest noise. Residents drive golf carts, place pink flamingos in their lawn and put out American flags.

Kenny and other neighbors received the news that Young had threatened officers in Bay Pines with a knife and bomb with disbelief. It wasn't until after Young died, shot by police in the emergency room, that his deteriorating condition and his final act made sense.

"You can't judge what another man does unless you know his mind," Kenny said, pulling on a cigarette while sitting in his motorized wheelchair.

Friday afternoon Young waved to a neighbor as he left home. The 68-year-old veteran parked his car and strode into the emergency room with the knife and a backpack; inside it he had a PVC pipe.

When officers arrived, they said, Young lunged at them, so they shot him. Physicians tried to save Young, but he later died.

The hospital was evacuated and the threatened explosive turned out to be a fake. No patients or staff were hurt. The FBI would not speculate on his motivation.

• • •

Young's neighbors knew little about him. He never bothered anyone, they said; never raised his voice. He liked to build 3-foot-long model airplanes, using the blacktop in front of his house as a runway.

Young was also quick to help others with their computers, and his home looked like a RadioShack repair shop, Kenny said, the shelves littered with electronic parts.

He was a whiz with mechanics — a neighbor's three-wheeled bicycle he was fixing still sat in his driveway behind streams of police tape.

This man could tear apart a car and rebuild it, Kenny said. Surely, he could have built a bomb.

"Hell, for $25 I can buy stuff to make a bomb that would blow that house off its foundation," he said, pointing to Young's mobile home.

Kenny and Young conducted fire and safety patrols of the community in golf carts. Even though they spent several nights a week, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. together, they never talked about their mutual military service in the 1960s. Kenny couldn't even say where Young served or in what branch.

Sometimes Young wasn't up to the patrols and Kenny presumed he suffered from depression, possibly post-traumatic stress disorder. But bearing his own scars from the terror of war, Kenny never asked.

Young also never spoke of his family, and Kenny thought he might not stay in touch. A Pinellas County divorce record shows that he was married for five years and divorced in 2007.

Nor, toward the end, did Young even mention his awful news. Kenny's wife, Carole Langley-Kenny, learned almost by accident.

• • •

Carole bumped into Young at the Wawa checkout line. She was about to fly to Georgia to visit her daughter who just learned she had cancer. Carole told Young of her daughter's diagnosis, and how only weeks before, her nephew had died of the disease, too.

Then, the typically private Young said he, too, had cancer. Carole got the impression it was terminal.

Her mind focused miles away on her daughter, Carole forgot to offer sympathy. Before parting, Young said, "I'm sorry to hear about your daughter and nephew; I'll pray for them."

And then with a shrug and a stone face added, "But I'm ready to go."

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