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Palm Bay Rampage: Explosion Of A Loudly Ticking Time Bomb

April 25, 1987

PALM BAY, Fla. (AP) _ The supermarkets were busy on payday in this coastal city. Less than a mile away, two boys raced their bicycles across the lawn of a man who had been the scourge of the neighborhood.

The gray-haired owner of the neat home rushed out and yelled at them. The boys laughed and rode away, their usual response. The man had been feuding with the neighborhood’s youth for months, often making obscene gestures or pulling a gun in anger.

It seemed like just another April day in Palm Bay, where an influx of young families has quietly transformed the retiree-dominated city into one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities.

One of the newer residents was 59-year-old William B. Cruse, a retired librarian from Kentucky whose wife suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, 14 year-old Johnny Rich, shooting hoops in his driveway across the street from the Cruse home, was wounded by a shotgun blast.

Young witnesses say the shots may have been meant for passing bicyclists, but it was not known if they were the same boys who earlier had ridden onto Cruse’s lawn.

At 6:15 p.m. EDT, a gray-haired man in a white Toyota drove in front of the K mart at the Palm Bay shopping center, less than a mile from where Johnny Rich lay bleeding in his father’s arms.

Two college students from Kuwait, whose names were alternately given as Nobil Al-Hameli or Nobi Alhanell and Emad Al-Tawakuly or Emad al-Juwakuly, waited for the car to pass as they stood on the sidewalk. Gunfire erupted and they fell, fatally wounded.

Witnesses say the gunman headed for the Publix supermarket at the shopping center but turned around. He may have tried to enter the exit door, which wouldn’t open. The man headed back to his car and pointed his gun at one woman but didn’t fire, witnesses said.

Before the gunman left the shopping center, Lester Watson, a 52-year-old quality control inspector, lay dead. Publix bag boy Don Carter said Watson had insisted on carrying his own groceries. They scattered on the sidewalk next to his body.

Minutes later, the car sped into the parking lot of the Sabal Palm shopping center across the street. The man parked in front of the Jewelry Gallery and got out. His abrupt movements, leveling of his gun and emotionless face reminded jewelry store co-owner Brad Roshto, 24, of the killer android in the movie, ″The Terminator.″

Roshto jumped inside his store. Bullets smashed through the glass. His partner, Fletcher Redmond, swears he felt a bullet graze his hair.

At 6:21 p.m., the gunman shot at the front windows of the Winn Dixie supermarket next door to the jewelry store. Ted Budine, 25, was sitting in his Camaro in front of the supermarket when the windshield was cracked by a gunshot. Budine looked up and saw a gunman heading toward him with a long rifle.

But then police Officer Gerald Johnson pulled up in his patrol car. The gunman turned and fired through the police windshield, Budine said. Johnson was fatally wounded.

About two minutes later, rookie Officer Ronald Grogan arrived and opened fire. He too was fatally wounded in the return of fire, police said.

At that point, Ruben Torres, 39, said the gunman fired at him. Torres said he ran to his car and pulled out his .45-caliber pistol and fired a few shots back before the gunman entered the supermarket.

Police at first thought Torres might have been the rampaging gunman, and he was taken into custody and held until 5 a.m. Friday.

At some point during the violence, the gunman also killed Ruth Green, 67, whose neighbors said she had gone to buy lettuce for her pet hamsters at the Winn Dixie.

Inside Winn Dixie, dozens of people dropped groceries or diaper bags and ran for cover or to the back door. Some jumped into a shallow ditch out back.

To them, it seemed from the sound of gunfire that the gunman was on the roof or advancing on them. Three men in two pickup trucks began rescuing people from the ditch.

Those inside Winn Dixie tried to hide, in a broom closet, in a cooler, and in a bathroom.

Outside, 300 members of special weapons assault teams massed from local police departments and Patrick Air Force Base.

About an hour after he entered the Winn Dixie, the gunman found 21-year-old employee Robin Brown and another woman hiding in the employee bathroom.

Over the next few hours, Ms. Brown would say later, the gunman instructed her to use bottles to break out lightbulbs as they talked. He told her he had been drinking too much, she said.

Police with a bullhorn began talking to the gunman at about 9 p.m. His reponses ranged from rambling rages to melancholy, Police Chief Charles Simmons said.

Hundreds of people were trapped in nearby shops. Police locked the door of Chili’s Restaurant with 200 people inside. At the nearby McDonald’s, employees tried to help 37 customers pass the time by showing them a training video on how to cook french fries and Chicken McNuggets.

Radio station WTAI halted its live coverage at 10:30 p.m. at police request because officers believed the gunman was listening. At about 1:10 a.m., the gunman told Ms. Brown she should leave while she could, she said. Police weren’t sure who remained inside.

At 1:16 a.m., tear gas canisters were fired. After scattered gunshots, more tear gas was fired.

At 1:54 a.m., police fired a flash-concussion weapon. Officers rushed in and found Cruse dazed but trying to flee. They threw him to the floor and ordered him not to move, police reports say.

Cruse, who was charged with six counts of murder and held in the Brevard County Jail, grew up in Irvine, Ky., a small town southeast of Lexington. His father was convicted of shooting into the home of Estill Commonwealth’s Attorney W.L. Kash in 1950 and given a five-year prison sentence.

High school classmate Robert Welch recalled Cruse as ″a nice boy, on the quiet side. His clothes were well-pressed, and he was always well-behaved.″

That’s not how Palm Bay will remember him.

On the door of the tiny police headquarters in this city, which has grown from 7,200 residents in 1970 to 43,000 today, two black wreaths were hung.

″They had wives, families, mortgages and no reason to die,″ said Chief Simmons.

Residents remained stunned Saturday.

″My parents moved down here from New York seven years ago because they didn’t want us growing up there,″ said Brian Lowe, 22. ″You never would think that something like this could happen in Palm Bay.″

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