George Frank’s last visit to the little yellow bungalow on North Tampa Street started off like many others.
The 34-year-old Tampa carpenter had befriended Janee DeCamp about a year earlier and stopped by often to join her for coffee on the front porch. On the morning of May 9, as he often did, Frank greeted her with an enthusiastic “God is good!”
But not long after Frank arrived, he and the boyfriend of one of DeCamp’s daughters got into an argument. Seconds later, Frank was lying on the sidewalk, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds.
“He said my name three times, and those were his last words,” DeCamp recalled.
Now Frank’s family and friends are waiting to learn whether the man who shot him will be criminally charged in what police are investigating as a possible stand your ground case.
The Tampa Police Department has declined to release the shooter’s name or many details about the shooting, citing an active investigation. But DeCamp said she didn’t think the shooting was necessary, and Frank’s friends and family said they don’t believe the shooter was justified to use deadly force.
“I’d like to see the man behind bars,” said Frank’s uncle, George Frank Jr., who lives in Illinois and said his nephew was shot three times. “How much can you do against an unarmed man and get away with it?”
‘Always doing something for somebody else’
The desire to be closer to a family member drew George Frank to Florida from Illinois, and a yearning to be closer to another family member made him anxious to return to his home state.
Frank was born and raised in Jerseyville, Illinois — a small city southwest of Springfield. He moved to the Tampa area to be closer to his mother after she was diagnosed with cancer, family and friends said. She died in 2019.
Devon Gilfeather, a close friend of Frank’s who met him about six years ago, said he was kind and generous, a “protector” who helped Gilfeather when he needed it.
“I always had his back, and he always had mine,” Gilfeather said.
Frank’s concern extended to strangers, friends said. Gilfeather recalled how Frank would always insist on stopping to help people he saw broken down on the side of the road.
“It didn’t matter if it was his worst day — he was always doing something for somebody else,” said another friend, Matthew Krutsinger, who met Frank about five years ago and spent much of the pandemic lockdown with him.
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Frank had a young son who lived with his mother in Illinois, and Frank was eager to return to the state to visit the boy and maybe even to move back to the child who Gilfeather said was Frank’s “pride and joy.”
“That was his only wish and only goal, to get back to his son in Illinois and be a part of his life,” said Stephanie Salter, another friend.
But Frank was legally tethered to Florida. In 2020, he was placed on probation after an arrest in Hillsborough. The terms of his probation prohibited Frank from leaving the state.
Friends said Frank asked his probation officer without success to allow him to transfer his probation to Illinois or at least leave Florida to visit his son and other family members.
“It frustrated him so much,” Salter said. “I’ve seen the man cry several times from that issue.”
Frank was close to being free to travel or move out of Florida. Records show his probation was set to end Sept. 30.
Salter met Frank about two years ago, when he started working for the Tampa company where she works as a manager, and she let him crash on her couch for a while. She said he was a gifted carpenter and an energetic guy who cracked jokes and gave money to people down on their luck. Frank could be loud and mouth off when he got angry, she said, but she had never seen him become violent or get into a fight.
Friends said Frank was trying to stay sober and had rediscovered his faith in God, regularly attending church in Tampa and often carrying a Bible. A couple of weeks before his death, he got baptized.
Frank had at least two Facebook accounts, and both are peppered with motivational messages and scripture passages.
In a long public post in April, Frank lamented the “self-dug hole” he’d found himself in and how he had “buried” the “Superdad” he’d once been.
“If there’s only 1 thing I can tell you is give kindness and love to everyone especially yourself,” the post said. “Common decency respect love and the truth will get you farther in life then anything else will.”
One of his last public posts, made late on the night before he was shot, featured a line from Proverbs 4:23:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
‘He should not have shot him’
Janee DeCamp met Frank about a year ago and they quickly become close friends. DeCamp, who uses a wheelchair, said Frank helped her out around the house she rents on the 3700 block of N Tampa Street, and some months ago had let him stay in the home for a while.
DeCamp said Frank was a giving person and a “peacemaker.” She recalled how, when Frank learned one of her daughters needed gas money, he gave her the $9 in his pocket.
“He really did have a good heart,” she said in a phone interview as traffic on North Tampa Street roared by in the background.
The morning of the shooting, DeCamp said, Frank showed up for his usual visit and went into the house to get coffee. He went back in at least one more time to look at a washing machine that wasn’t working properly, DeCamp said.
One of DeCamp’s daughters was home with her boyfriend, who occasionally sleeps at the house. DeCamp said Frank had tried in the past to befriend the boyfriend, but there was still tension between the two men. She said the boyfriend regularly carried a gun.
DeCamp declined to provide the boyfriend’s name and the Tampa Bay Times was unable to confirm his identity.
That morning, DeCamp said, her daughter and the boyfriend had just woken up and told Frank to stop coming in and out of the house like he lived there. Soon after, the boyfriend came onto the porch, just outside the front door.
DeCamp said the two men exchanged words, and Frank moved toward the boyfriend and said something like, “I’ll take that from you.” As DeCamp turned toward the men, she saw the boyfriend fire and heard three shots.
Decamp said Frank clutched his chest and called out her name.
“Then he said my name two more times and stumbled down the stairs and then onto the sidewalk,” where he collapsed, DeCamp said. She said the boyfriend called 911.
DeCamp said the two men did not struggle over the gun and Frank did not make physical contact with the boyfriend.
Based on what she saw and heard, DeCamp said, “He definitely should not have shot him.”
DeCamp said detectives got surveillance video from a nearby home but the camera did not have a full view of the shooting and what led up to it.
According to information previously released by police, officers were called to the house just after 9 a.m. that day and found a man in his 30s who had died from a gunshot wound. The shooter remained at the scene and has cooperated with the investigation.
Police released Frank’s name at the Times’ request, but police spokesperson Merissa Lynn said the department could not provide the name of the shooter because investigators at this point consider him to be a crime victim who is protected by Marsy’s Law.
“At this time, the case is being investigated as a justified shooting (stand your ground),” Lynn said in an email.
Lynn said it could be several more weeks before police send the case to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office to review and determine if the shooter will be criminally charged.
Florida’s stand your ground law says a person faced with a violent confrontation has no duty to retreat and can use force if in fear of imminent harm. A 2018 change to the law put the burden of proof on prosecutors in such cases and has led to a rise in stand your ground claims throughout the state.
Frank’s friends said he wasn’t the type to be an aggressor, but he didn’t back down if he felt that he or someone else he cared about was being threatened.
“He was unjustly shot, and to me it’s murder, Krutsinger said.
Frank, in a way, did finally make it back to Illinois.
His body was sent home to his family last week and he was buried on Monday, near his mother and a sister, in a cemetery not far from his hometown.