ST. PETERSBURG — It was not until after 18-year-old Malachi Heisler shot the masked intruder that he recognized the tattoos on the man's arms.
Malachi knew then that he had killed his own father. He wasn't surprised. He always feared his estranged dad would come back.
"He wanted to scare us first," Malachi said, "then kill us when we were afraid."
According to Pinellas County sheriff's reports, 46-year-old John Heisler crept into the yard at 5001 43rd Ave. N around midnight and smashed a window on the small gray house.
The sound drew his ex-girlfriend, Jolene Andrews, 37, and her boyfriend, Alton Pyles, 47, outside. They retreated when they saw a man clad in full tactical gear with a ski mask covering his face. They tried to shut the door, but he burst in, deputies said, grabbing Andrews and trying to force her to the ground with what looked like a gun.
Pyles called for help, deputies said, and Malachi opened his bedroom door.
"Just by the sound of the person's voice, it was distress," Malachi said. "And I knew it wasn't a joke."
At first, John Heisler had his weapon pointed at Andrews. He then trained it on Malachi, who had retrieved a rifle.
Malachi fired once, hitting his father in the upper body, investigators said.
The teen said early Tuesday that he thought the man had a pistol, but deputies later said Heisler only carried two BB guns.
No one else was hurt, including Malachi's 13-year-old sister, Magenta, who was in a another bedroom.
"I kept that from happening," Malachi said.
Malachi said the home invasion was "not something you prepare for," but he had concerns that his estranged father might try something like this.
The family's turmoil boiled over in recent months, according to court records.
Deputies responded to the house on April 22 for a domestic altercation. Once there, Andrews told them Heisler, who is also Magenta's father, was moving out and had left three days before after a fight but returned suddenly that night. According to the report, Malachi told investigators he was "afraid" with his father in the house.
Part of the dispute concerned a safe in the home that contained several guns, including an assault rifle, two shotguns and semiautomatic pistols, as well as assorted ammunition, a deputy wrote. Heisler, a felon with a criminal record that dated to the late 1980s, was not allowed to have access to guns. Since he had a key to the gun safe, he was charged with illegal gun possession, records showed.
In early May, Andrews obtained a domestic violence injunction against Heisler that prohibited him from entering the house, Tyrone Middle School and Dixie Hollins High School, which the children attended, as well as Andrews' workplace.
"He wasn't a good dad. I'll say that," Malachi said.
When deputies first arrived Tuesday with "raised voices, canine units, (and) guns pointed at (him)," Malachi said he "felt like (he had) made the wrong decision." Crime scene technicians had carried bags of evidence out of the house. A tow truck driver removed a white sedan from the driveway. But after hours of questioning, sheriff's investigators brought the family back to the house Tuesday morning.
No charges had been filed.
Malachi eventually answered reporters' knocks at his door and came outside. He wore a red bandana over his face, trying to block the smell of death he said lingered inside the home.
The teen said the incident might have been bloodier had he not grabbed a gun.
"If I didn't, people would be dead, and more than one," he said.
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.