Advertisement
  1. News

'I went off the deep end,' says shooter in south Tampa Facebook feud

Brian Sebring (left) is accused of shooting and wounding Alex Stephens (right) after a political dispute on Facebook about felons voting. At left is Sebring's booking photo after his arrest by Tampa police. At right is a 2012 booking photo of victim Stephens, who has prior felony convictions. Now, Sebring, too, faces a felony charge. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
Published Aug. 10, 2018

TAMPA — Brian Sebring left work early on Monday, armed himself with his wife's handgun and an AR-15 rifle, and drove to a stranger's house in an area of Tampa where he has lived since childhood.

He was afraid, he said. He had never met Alex Stephens but believed he was a felon ready for a fight.

Once the shots had been fired, Sebring, 44, was the only one with a hot muzzle. He was the one in trouble, accused of shooting Stephens, 46, over a Facebook post on politics that quickly turned personal.

"I'm not a bad guy," Sebring said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, "but I mean, this guy threatened to hurt my family, and I went off the deep end. I wasn't thinking right. You know, after this I'm going to go see a therapist or something, man, because that's some scary s---, that I could lose my temper like that and do something so stupid."

Stephens was shot in the thigh and buttocks. He was discharged from Tampa General Hospital shortly after the shooting. He did not respond to an interview request.

Sebring was released from the Hillsborough County jail Tuesday night on a $9,500 bond. He faces felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed firearm.

He wiped tears from his eyes Wednesday as he stood in his driveway taking phone calls from police and lawyers.

Sebring said his guns had never been fired outside of a gun range until Monday night. Now, in addition to legal problems, he is a target of social media trolling across the country.

"I ruined my life over this," Sebring said. "Now my mother is too afraid to leave the house, my sons are afraid to walk to school or church, all because of some keyboard gangsters."

BACKGROUND: Facebook political argument ends with Tampa man shot in buttocks

The Facebook dispute had its roots in a comment Sebring added to a friend's post about Donald Trump. The post has since been taken down, and Sebring's electronic devices were seized by police, he said.

Tyler Travis, a Facebook user who witnessed the exchange, told the Times that Sebring was "badmouthing felons who couldn't vote."

Sebring, a registered Democrat, said he was responding to a felon who wrote that "even though he lost the right to vote, he wanted to share his political opinion."

Sebring characterized his reply as, "If you want to voice your opinion, don't do criminal activity, don't get caught, be a productive member of society."

He said the comment drew hundreds of responses.

But Stephens, who has a Facebook account under the name Dusty Rhodes (not the late wrestler), took the argument to Sebring's private Messenger account, Sebring said.

Stephens has a felony record and served stints in state prison on charges that include robbery and cocaine possession. His latest term ended in 2016.

Sebring had also been arrested but had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges and attended an anger management class. He retained voting rights.

He looked up Stephens' criminal record before their Monday encounter, Sebring said.

Stephens knew where he lived, Sebring said, and had threatened harm to his wife and autistic son.

Stephens sent Sebring his address and told him to "come on over" if he wanted a fight, and to beep the horn if and when he showed up, Sebring said.

Sebring said he dug at Stephens, too.

In a screen grab obtained by the Times, Sebring wrote, "Dude I'm going to empty a full 5.56 magazine into your head," followed by, "You really want me to come to your (house)."

"I just snapped and let primal rage take over," Sebring said Wednesday.

Sebring said he drove to the home he shares with his 68-year-old mother, wife and two sons, armed himself with the guns and then parked his truck in the street outside Stephens' home.

When Sebring honked, he said, the 6-foot, 230-pound Stephens came running "like a linebacker."

Tampa police previously have reported Sebring's initial account that the other man charged him.

"I told him, 'Man, you better stop, man, I got a gun,' but he kept running," Sebring said. "It looked like he was holding a steak knife in his hand and I got scared. When I shot him, he dropped it and ran back in the house."

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said Thursday there was no mention of a knife by either man. Nor did either man say the victim had a gun.

Travis, who is Stephens' friend, said Stephens told him he was shot in the butt turning away, ducked behind a tree, and then was shot again in the legs as he retreated into the house.

Sebring said he was nearly home when he spotted a police cruiser and parked his truck. He emptied his guns and told the officer what he had done.

Both Sebring and Stephens attended Robinson High School, but not at the same time. They share multiple friends on Facebook, some of whom have joined the growing Internet debate on Sebring's actions.

"I know both of these two and got to witness quite a bit of the fall out," reader Shonia Cruz Munoz posted on a Times story. "The victim IS the victim — let's leave it at that.... Threats were made but only one chose to use weapons. Only one chose to drive to someone's home and open fire on him.'

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Nearly a year after it was left abandoned and half-sunk off the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, a salvage crew finally raised and towed the Moonraker II to the Courtney Campbell boat ramp. It is slated to be crushed. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The boat was an eyesore to those who live off Tampa Bay. Then it became a political statement. Now it’s been towed and will soon be crushed.
  2. Republican Sen. Joe Gruters said Florida consumers are required to pay the sales tax, but rarely do so if online sellers don't collect it.
    The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday.
  3. Stephanie Vold, a medical assistant and intake specialist for OnMed, holds the door while Austin White, president and CEO of the company, talks with a nurse practitioner during a demonstration of their new telehealth system at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday. The hospital is the first to deploy the OnMed station and plans to install them at other locations. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The closet-size “office” with a life-size screen is another example of the changing face of medicine.
  4. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  5. Wayne Juhlin was arrested after calling 911 to report his wife's death and is being held in the Sarasota County Jail. Venice Police/Twitter
    Wayne Juhlin told detectives Monday night that he had intended to kill himself, too, but said his gun malfunctioned, and he couldn’t do it.
  6. Students in the Gulf High School class of 2023 show their spirit in a float they created for the annual homecoming parade held Oct. 8 in downtown New Port Richey. Michele Miller
    Annual tradition marches on last week down Grand Boulevard.
  7. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The sides have not set a time to resume discussions on teacher pay.
  8. Census forms have to be printed soon. [AP photo by Michelle R. Smith]
    Citizenship controversy could be a psychological barrier.
  9. An armored police vehicle enters the Town Center at Boca Raton parking lot in front of Nordstrom, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Boca Raton, Fla., as the mall had been placed on lockdown following reports of shots fired. ANDRES LEIVA  |  AP
    Surveillance video shows a janitor popped the balloon in the food court of the Town Center mall on Sunday after it got tangled in his pushcart.
  10. [RON BORRESEN  |  Times].
    The deadline is Friday to submit your employer’s name for consideration.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement