Police: Five dead after gunman opens fire in hotel

Thursday, December 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- In a hotel jammed with football fans, an employee shot and killed four co-workers Thursday, then killed a fifth person as he tried to escape, police said. Three others were wounded.

The suspect, described by police as a 36-year-old man, was arrested shortly after he opened fire in the Radisson Bay Harbor Inn. Police said they seized two weapons.

"He didn't say nothing -- just 'boom, boom, boom,"' said Radisson employee Lawrence Wilson, pantomiming how the shooter fired. "We had no beef with the guy. He just ... snapped."

The shootings started after 3:00 p.m. when the hotel was packed with football fans in town for the New Year's Day Outback Bowl between Purdue and Georgia.

Police Chief Bennie Holder said the suspect was working at the time. Three victims were shot in the lobby, and one was found dead
by the swimming pool.

"Right now, we don't know the motivation," Holder said.

As the gunman fled, he encountered Rafael Barrios, 20, a bellman who was coming in on his day off to pick up his paycheck. The
suspect approached Barrios' car and pointed the pistol at him through the window.

"I saw him switching the clips," Barrios said. "I jumped out of my car and ran."

The suspect drove Barrios' car to a restaurant about 5 miles away, where he tried to take another car from a woman who resisted,
police said. She was shot and killed. The suspect was arrested shortly later.

Wilson said the shooter had worked at the hotel about three months and had never caused any problems.

Mike Conley was at the hotel's outdoor restaurant near the pool when he heard a noise like firecrackers.

"I saw a woman screaming and I thought it was some sort of prank," said Conley, of Kansas City, Mo. "All of the sudden, you
look over right where you were standing a few minutes earlier and there is a dead body there. I don't think it's hit me yet."

Carson Woods, a Purdue fan from Dayton, Ohio, said he was leaving the hotel lobby to retrieve a bag from his car when he heard shots.

"I heard two pops and saw people running out of the hotel," Woods said. "I knew I had to get out of there."

The identities of the victims were not released, and information on the wounded was not immediately available. One of the wounded, a housekeeper at the hotel, was reportedly shot in the leg.

Purdue fans Mark Sanders and David Dowdell, both of Jeffersonville, Ind., spent the day at Clearwater Beach before trying to return to the Radisson. Emergency vehicles clogged the
roads near the hotel, and they heard the news on the radio.

Hours later, they were still waiting to get back in the hotel. Police told them that might not happen until late Thursday.

"It puts a damper on the festivities. We were all jacked up for the game," Sanders said. "But I understand there's a bigger tragedy than not being able to get into our room. Someone is not going home tonight."

Shawna Moss, a 20-year old sophomore at the University of Georgia, said she saw a victim in the pool area.

"I saw the man, he was laying on one of the chairs," she said. "They held up his arm, and then moved him to the ground and there
was blood all over the place. I saw a dead man. I can't believe it."