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Two killed, two injured in Tampa park shooting

Published Apr. 21, 2014

TAMPA

Bullet casings and plastic Easter eggs lay scattered in the grass after a gunfight broke out Sunday in a park crowded with families and children celebrating the holiday.

When police arrived at Alfred "Al" Barnes Jr. Park around 5 p.m., two young men were dead and two others were rushed to Tampa General Hospital with serious injuries.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny, who had been entertaining families earlier, joined children behind crime scene tape as investigators combed the scene.

"It was a family day," said Lt. Ronald McMullen, a spokesman for Tampa police. "We had been in and out of the parks all day. And it was family fun."

Police identified the dead as Nico Charles Crawford, 22, and Zedmon Culpepper, 17, both from Tampa. Police were not yet identifying the persons who were injured, whom McMullen described as a male and a female, both in critical but stable condition.

The park, at 2902 N 32nd St. north of Ybor City, was filled with families observing the holiday with barbecues, an Easter egg hunt and other traditions. At least some of the shooting victims were at the park with their families as well, McMullen said.

Shawn Howard, 36, was driving by the park earlier in the afternoon with her two daughters when she saw the holiday festivities and decided to stop.

"It was so nice and peaceful as everyone's celebrating Easter," Howard said. "And then this happened and everyone's running everywhere."

Howard made sure her daughters were safe before she moved closer to the baseball diamond near where the shots were fired.

"When I saw them on the ground, I thought, 'That's somebody's child,' " Howard said. "The girl, she looked like she wanted to get up but couldn't."

Howard knelt by the female victim and held her until police arrived. Police suspect the female victim, who was shot in the torso and wrist, was a bystander caught in the crossfire.

"She kept saying, 'My stomach is burning,' " Howard said. "I just held her and tried to keep her calm."

McMullen said police were searching for three to four people who left the scene before officers arrived, describing them as "persons of interest." Police took one person into custody later Sunday evening, he said, but had not named him as a suspect.

Police searched the grass surrounding one of the bodies for shell casings, trying to determine how many shots were fired. A purple Easter basket, its handle snapped in half, lay nearby. Plastic eggs — blue, yellow, orange and purple — covered the distance between the body and the playground.

"Easter is a day of religion and celebration," said Tameka Johnson, 38. "It's so sad. How could this happen when children were around?"

Added Tanya Benton, 37: "I would never bring my children to something like this on Easter now. My heart goes out to all of the children."

McMullen said the shooting was not a random act, but part of an ongoing dispute. The victims were in their late teens and early 20s and were not related, he said. All four were shot in the upper body at least once.

State records show Crawford had been arrested 21 times in Florida, with felony charges including battery on a law enforcement officer and possession of cocaine. He has faced several other assault and drug charges.

Police questioned several witnesses and were searching for an armed suspect who remained at large, McMullen said.

"We have several residents who we're talking to," McMullen said. "People are cooperating. They're tired of this happening. This is a nice park, and it should have been a nice Easter."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

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