'The killing has to stop,' Midtown residents say after Tuesday double homicide

Onlookers, many of whom said they'd been effected by violence in midtown, look on as St. Petersburg police conduct a death investigation. Police said they found two bodies in an alley, but have yet to release a cause of death. [Daniel Figueroa IV | Times]
Onlookers, many of whom said they'd been effected by violence in midtown, look on as St. Petersburg police conduct a death investigation. Police said they found two bodies in an alley, but have yet to release a cause of death. [Daniel Figueroa IV | Times]
Published Oct. 17, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Starlette Clark shook with frustration, tears welling in her eyes Tuesday morning as she stood between two decrepit businesses on 14th Avenue S and 16th Street.

"The killing has to stop," she said, her voice cracking. "There are so many murders, you can't even point them out. Every other week it seems to me there's a killing. Black or white, it doesn't matter. All lives matter."

Clark stood between a boarded-up social services center and a torn-down Salem's Gyros and Subs, the defunct restaurant's marquee still standing amid rubble, advertising a meal of 20 wings and fries for $11.99. Behind her, swarms of white and green cars from the St. Petersburg Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office sat as officers and detectives investigated the discovery of two bodies early that morning.

St. Pete police released little information Tuesday morning, only saying an adult male and female were found dead in or around an older model Ford pickup truck. Police said it was too early to rule the deaths homicide.

"As we find out more, we'll be able to update what we're working with," police spokeswoman Sandra Bentil said.

It wasn't until hours later that police revealed what it was a double-homicide investigation. A man and a woman were found dead near a pick-up truck in an alley off 14th Avenue S in a case that St. Petersburg police said had "drug overtones."

They were identified as Cheryl Lee Casey, a 58-year-old white woman and Kenneth Lee Shook, a 35-year-old white male.

But residents said they already knew.

Vincent Williams was getting to his house just a block away from where the bodies were found when he heard the shots. He had been helping unload groceries at 3 Brothers Groceries, a store just up the street from where the bodies were found.

"It was about 20 minutes before four," he said. "As soon as I got home I heard the shots, five or six, then it went again, about five more."

Other residents in homes around the area said the same. They heard two set of shots sometime after 3:30 a.m. Police said they received the call around 7:30 a.m.

Williams and others who live in the immediate area surrounding the alley said Casey and Shook weren't from the neighborhood, but had been around for about a week.

As residents gathered around the growing crime scene, many grew frustrated at the rising body count in the predominantly black Midtown area of the city.

"The killing has to stop," Williams said. "There have been a lot of shootings the last few years."

Just a few months ago, in July, Williams said, his nephew was shot and killed in a nightclub two blocks from Tuesday's crime scene. Less than three years ago, Clark's son was shot to death in a Jordan Park apartment about a quarter mile away. Wallace's father, Antonio Swain, was stabbed to death in the neighborhood in April.

Nearly everyone who gathered around the scene had stories of violence in the neighborhood, and many said they are disillusioned by police efforts. Residents said police come when there's an issue, but often it's too late and there aren't enough proactive patrols.

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"I don't think police are doing enough," Lyquanta King said. "Either way it goes, it's too much violence. It's got to stop."

King's 11-year-old son Dante Bryant, who attends John Hopkins Middle School in Midtown, was shot almost two years ago by another boy who was upset over a video game loss.

"Right now, my boy is walking around with two bullet fragments in his back," King said.

The child who shot him, she said, is still in school with her son.

Neighborhood residents attribute the violence to drug deals, many involving people coming in from other communities. Williams, who has lived in the area for 49 years, said the problem started in the early '80s, got cleaned up a bit in the '90s, but has ticked up again in the last 10 years.

Despite the violence, some feel the neighborhood is still a viable place for business. Salem Gharsalli, owner of Salem's Fresh Eats, the company that operates Salem's Gyros and Subs, still believes in the area. So much so, he said, he's launching a new restaurant concept, Salem's Seafood House, on the site of his old restaurant, just next to the alley where two bodies lay. He also said he's adding more restaurants in the Southside and Midtown areas.

"This is a beautiful neighborhood. There are a lot of good people here," he said. "If I made any money, if I made it here, I'm reinvesting it here."

Times staff writer Suhauna Hussain contributed to this report.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at Follow @danuscripts.