TAMPA — a sprawling search for a man accused of multiple assaults near the University of South Florida late Thursday ended with a firefight in front of an east Hillsborough Waffle House.
Authorities exchanged at least 100 bullets with suspect Charlie "Chris" Bates, 24, midday Friday. He was declared dead an hour later at the hospital. No one else was injured, though Bates left a wake of terror behind him.
He raped four women and threatened a fifth. He forced a group of students gathered for a party into a bedroom at gunpoint. He stole a friend's car. He told victims that he had already killed. He said they'd be next if they called authorities.
"We could not allow him to go any further," Sheriff David Gee said after Bates' death.
More than 100 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies were looking for Bates on Friday — the largest manhunt in Hillsborough since Dontae Morris was accused of shooting two Tampa police officers in 2010.
About noon, they got a tip Bates had cut off his dreadlocks and stolen
a friend's car. An officer noticed the burnt orange sedan in Temple Terrace and started following it. As it headed south on U.S. 301, a helicopter followed and Bates took off.
Driving 80 to 100 mph, he started shooting out the back window and the driver's side window, police said.
Two Tampa police officers in an unmarked Dodge rammed Bates' car to try to disable it. The second time, Bates swerved into the median and then sharply turned right, cutting across several lanes. He slammed to a halt in front of a Waffle House just north of Interstate 4.
What happened next was captured by cameras in local news helicopters:
Two officers and Bates immediately start exchanging gunshots. One officer crouches behind his car door, using it as a shield. The second officer remains in the car, hidden behind a SWAT shield that he propped in the front window.
Several more officers join, their guns drawn. They slowly approach the car.
Authorities shot Bates "several times," deputies say. A medical examiner will provide a more specific count later.
• • •
It started about 11 p.m. Thursday, when Bates walked into a gathering of USF students watching football at the Cambridge Woods Apartments. He bound the four men and raped the four women.
Then he went to the Eagle Point Apartments, across 42nd Street. There, he approached a woman who was sitting on her porch. He forced her inside and made her undress and kiss him.
She began praying and recited John 3:16. For God so loved the world …
His whole demeanor changed, police said. Bates apologized. He gave her a shirt. They prayed together.
She tried to hand him her Bible, but he wouldn't take it, so she ripped pages out and gave them to Bates.
He left, and she called 911.
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Bates then headed to the Oaks Condominiums, just down the street, where he came upon a party. He forced about 25 people into a bedroom at gunpoint and fired at least one round into the carpet before leaving, deputies said.
On his way out, Bates chased a man he encountered and fired several shots, missing the man.
Officers nearby, investigating the incident at Cambridge Woods Apartments, heard the gunshots and caught a glimpse of Bates as he ran away. Soon, they also had his fingerprints from the rape scene. By morning, authorities had a full perimeter set up and a warrant in hand.
At the apartment complexes Bates targeted, deputies in bulletproof vests knocked on doors, peered into cars and checked the trunks of cars leaving the area. They stopped students walking to class to ask: Is this your normal route? Have you seen anything unusual?
Bloodhounds tracked Bates' scent into nearby woods, but deputies did not find him. They acknowledged that he might have hopped in a car or gotten help from friends.
"People should be very cautious," Gee warned. "This individual has shown us he's very dangerous."
Later Friday, authorities said they will continue to investigate Bates and whether he may have committed other crimes. They already suspect him in two more.
On Aug. 9, Bates broke in through the back door of a home near Busch Boulevard and Rome Avenue. He demanded a woman's money, phone and jewelry and threatened to rape and kill her. The victim began praying, and Bates left. In late August, police got a warrant for Bates.
He is also believed to be involved in an incident Tuesday in which a man entered through an unlocked back door of a home near N 15th Street and E Comanche Avenue in Seminole Heights. He woke up a man and woman at gunpoint and demanded money.
He pistol whipped the man and committed a sex act on the woman before getting away. The couple didn't report the incident for two days because they were so afraid, police said.
Otherwise, his record is fairly unremarkable. A 2009 domestic battery charge was later dropped. And he was arrested on concealed weapon, marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia charges in Lakeland in March, state records show.
This type of escalation — in frequency and severity — is not unusual, Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said. Authorities say they were so intent on quickly capturing Bates on Friday because they thought his attacks had the potential to become deadly.
• • •
One of Bates' friends said she was not entirely surprised. At times, she said, his behavior frightened her.
Morgan Sansom, 24, of Mulberry met Bates through Facebook about a year ago. He lived in north Lakeland with his sister, and the two became friends. They went to nightclubs together and occasionally hooked up, she said.
For the most part, they got along great, she said. But sometimes, she was afraid.
"He would get mad at me sometimes," she said. "But I loved him and always wanted to be around him. Sometimes he would be really nice. Sometimes he could be really mean. He was the type of person who wouldn't hold back."
He always had guns around, she said, and made a living selling drugs. His Facebook page features several photos of money laid out on a bed. In one photo $100 bills are tucked inside 14 sneakers lined up along with a shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun. In another, bills spell out EXCLUSIVE with the caption: "they know the name and know the game."
Bates listed his home as Lakeland and indicated he studied at Polk State College after attending Lakeland Senior High School. He changed his cover photo to a picture of a small child on Sept. 3.
Sansom said the events Thursday night may have had something to do with a drug she knew Bates to use: "molly," a street name for MDMA — otherwise known as ecstasy. "He was taking that a lot," she said.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, MDMA acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic, producing an energizing effect, distortions in time and perception, and enhanced enjoyment of tactile experiences.
"He was more aggressive on it than most," Sansom said. "Maybe he was coming down or the stuff in 'molly' made him go crazy. I just don't know."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Stephanie Hayes, Claire Wiseman, Skip O'Rourke and Jimmy Geurts contributed to this report.