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Pasco Walmart attack victim: I thought I was dead

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:11 AM

The male victim in Wednesday morning's attack in the parking lot of a Lutz Walmart told detectives he thought he was going to die. The attack is being investigated as a hate crime.

"The victim said to me, he said, 'I thought that was it,'" Pasco County Sheriff's Office Detective Lisa Schoneman said. "He said I thought I was dead, my life was over and this was all it was going to be."

A video released by the sheriff's office shows a man and his girlfriend accosted as they attempted to enter the Walmart at 1575 Land O' Lakes Blvd. shortly after 3 a.m.

The man, whose parents are from Trinidad, was walking from the store's parking lot with his girlfriend, who is white, when a white man came up from behind and began asking questions.

The suspect asked if the man was from the Middle East and if he was Muslim. After the victim answered "no" to both questions, the suspect called the man a racial slur and made a reference to him being with a "white girl."

The suspect then pulled a pellet gun from his pocket and fired at least 20 shots at the couple. Even as the suspect left the couple, he aimed the handgun-style weapon at the couple and fired.

Two nearby witnesses also saw what took place.

"(The victim) was very upset and (his girlfriend is) very upset," Schoneman said. "And we really need to get him off the street before he does more harm to someone else because this has forever affected these two people.

"OK, it's just a pellet gun. He didn't know that … this has changed his life forever."

The suspect was wearing a brown jacket, blue jeans and green sandals. He has blonde hair cut close at the sides and longer up top, and is about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds. Detectives said he is between 18 and 30 years old and walks with an "unusual gait."

The male victim, 24, whose identity was not released by the sheriff's office, was treated at the scene. According to Schoneman, he will have pellets, one which remains lodged in his neck and another in his head, surgically removed Monday.

The girlfriend, 25, was not injured.

"This is a heinous crime," Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "We want the citizens' assistance in this investigation. This happened right on the Pasco-Hillsborough (county) line … they know who this person is. Somebody out there is going to watch this on the news tonight, read this in the paper and say, 'I know who this person is.'

"Please call us up because if this suspect can do this, who knows what's next. Please turn him in because there are other people's lives that could be at risk if this person stays out there."

During one portion of the video, provided by Walmart surveillance, the suspect was seen entering the store and even engaged two women in a soft drink aisle before leaving the store and later attacking the victims.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, asked the FBI to investigate the

incident. The group is offering a $1,000 reward for the first person who can provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.

Crime Stoppers has also offered a $1,000 reward for the capture and prosecution of the man wanted for the incident.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at (800) 706-2488.

edaniels@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTBO