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St. Petersburg police say men were targets in double-homicide

A third man survived Monday night's shooting, which police said was not connected to the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
Two men were fatally shot and another wounded at a Monday night gathering outside the Shell gas station at the corner of 34th Street and 18th Avenue S, according to St. Petersburg police. The men were targeted at a frequent gathering spot, police said, but investigators do not believe the shooting was connected to celebrations honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
Two men were fatally shot and another wounded at a Monday night gathering outside the Shell gas station at the corner of 34th Street and 18th Avenue S, according to St. Petersburg police. The men were targeted at a frequent gathering spot, police said, but investigators do not believe the shooting was connected to celebrations honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
Published Jan. 23, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Davis got out of a two-door Cadillac on Monday night and headed inside the Shell gas station on the corner of 34th Street S and 18th Avenue S. It was about 9:40 p.m., and more than 100 were gathered in the parking lot. The Shell station is a regular neighborhood hangout on nights, weekends and holidays.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg police change tactics for MLK Day following last year's controversial strategy

He left three friends — Tywan Jeremiah Armstrong, 39; Roger Lee Ford Jr., 42; and Carlos Demetrius Young, 44 — in the Cadillac. When Davis walked back out, he said he saw another car pull up alongside them.

He heard men arguing and cussing. Then Davis said he heard gunshot, 13 total.

His three friends were all wounded. He attempted to revive them with CPR, to no avail. Ford and Armstrong died. Young is expected to survive.

"They didn't have to go like that," Davis, 39, said.

The shooting left St. Petersburg grieving after an otherwise joyous Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. City officials, however, do not believe the shooting is connected to the annual parade, or the unofficial after-parties that go late into the evening.

Instead, police Chief Tony Holloway said Tuesday that the men in the car were targeted at a well-known gathering spot.

"This wasn't someone who shot into the crowd, this was someone who shot into that car," the chief said at a news conference. "This could have happened today, this could have happened tomorrow."

Less than an hour before Monday's shooting, police leaders were weighing which officers could be sent home. The department usually calls in extra officers to patrol the 34th annual MLK Dream Big Parade — attended by an estimated 40,000 people — then Family Fun Day at Tropicana Field, and the litany of unofficial after-parties that stretch across the city. It was a peaceful day, police said, that was not marred by arrests or incidents. Even the most dieheard revelers headed indoors, they said, encouraged by the cold.

But the double-homicide took place in the backdrop of the police department's new tactic of taking a less visible posture when patrolling King Day festivities. Community members complained last year that the police response after the parade was heavy-handed, so this year's more subtle approach was aimed at reducing tension with the community.

Then came the gunfire, reported at 9:40 p.m. Officers arrived to find a chaotic and crowded scene, said police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.

Ford, Armstrong and Young were taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. Ford and Armstrong, who were sitting up front, were pronounced dead there. Young was shot in the leg.

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Davis reminisced about the two men: Ford's nickname was "Ray Ray." Davis and Armstrong met at Tyrone Middle School and hung out at Childs Park, where they grew up. Armstrong left behind two young sons. The families of the three men could not be reached for comment.

Police did not discuss details of the investigation and did not release descriptions of the perpetrators or their car.

Holloway and community leaders sought to separate that night's shooting from the day's celebrations. The shooting did not take place near the main after-party along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street between 11th Avenue S and 18th Avenue S. They also said the Shell station is a regular neighborhood gathering place. Little league and pee-wee football teams hold car wash fundraisers in that parking lot, and dozens could be hanging out on any Friday or holiday evening.

"Black does not mean MLK," said the Rev. JC Pritchett, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

Holloway said the shooting would not result in a reevaluation of his department's security tactics for next year's King Day celebration. Last year, he and the department faced criticism over what some called "police containment" and tactics that made St. Petersburg streets resemble "military-type zones."

Maria Scruggs, the president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said police addressed many of their concerns this year.

"The issues that were heard last year from the community were heard loud and clear," Scruggs said.

Nor does she blame the police or the department's strategy this year. Filling the area with officers would not have stopped the shooting, she said.

"It would not have been appropriate ... to put a lot of law enforcement on 18th Avenue and 34 Street South just because that's where black people gather," she said.

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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