An armed and dangerous bandit suspected of carrying out a series of kidnappings and robberies with his girlfriend was shot and killed during a standoff with cops early Friday, Florida officials said.
And amid the hail of bullets, a gun-toting Blake Edward Fitzgerald used his girlfriend as a shield from the shots, authorities revealed. Brittany Nicole Harper was wounded in her leg and ankle. No cops or civilians were hurt.
“There was an attempt to take them into custody without shots fired,” Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said during a news conference Friday morning.
Fitzgerald and Harper had led police in the Florida Panhandle on a car chase late Thursday after being spotted by witnesses and robbed a shoe store around 8 p.m., Morgan said. They allegedly stole another car from a home two hours after that robbery.
The couple, both 30, had a $10,000 bounty on their heads for a multi-state crime spree that may have begun over a week ago and allegedly involved taking hostages in each incident.
In their final stand, the couple reached a residential neighborhood in Milton, northeast of Pensacola, in a stolen vehicle and “had nowhere to go,” William Eddins, state attorney of the First Judicial Circuit, told reporters.
They ran out of the car and tried to get inside one of the homes. But they never made it inside, Morgan added.
“It occurred so quickly that the residents of the home were taken care of to get them out of where the firefight might have ensued,” he said.
Authorities wouldn’t say whether Fitzgerald pulled a weapon first, prompting the standoff. They also wouldn’t say whether Harper was armed or the circumstances surrounding her shooting, other than confirming she was used as a human shield.
The standoff lasted for 15 minutes, and at 12:52 a.m., Fitzgerald was dead at the scene.
Harper was taken to the hospital, and will be arrested and charged with home invasion robbery, false imprisonment and grand theft auto, Eddins said.
Escambia County police are also trying to determine whether they were involved in a robbery at a Piggly Wiggly.
Ultimately, they may have had plans to go to Panama City to get married, Morgan said.
Friday’s showdown with cops brings to an end a series of events that authorities believe started around Jan. 22 with a break-in in a Joplin, Missouri, home where guns were stolen.
On Sunday, they kidnapped a hotel clerk in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, stealing his car and then driving about 60 miles to Vestavia Hills, where they released him and dumped the vehicle, the U.S. Marshals said.
The clerk, Kyle Dease, told NBC News that Fitzgerald thought that Dease had called the cops, so he decided to take him with them.
Dease said he chatted the fugitives up during the two-hour ordeal, talking about a tornado that had devastated their hometown of Joplin and their plans to head to Florida. They were very much in love, he said.
“They wanted to get married,” Dease said. “They wanted to escape and start new lives.”
After leaving Dease behind, the couple broke into a home, brandishing a handgun and then stealing a family’s Ford Edge, officials said. They took a woman hostage before later releasing her unharmed in nearby Birmingham.
On Monday, Fitzgerald and Harper were spotted about 250 miles away in Perry, Georgia, where they held up and robbed a gas station, police said. They allegedly kidnapped a clerk, then released him.
They’re also accused of committing two other robberies in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Before Thursday’s face-off with cops, the U.S. Marshal had asked the public for help in finding the couple, focusing on Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Missouri.
“Thankfully, no innocent member of the public has been physically harmed by this modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, but the couple is armed and dangerous, and has a history of violent crimes and a string of new charges,” said U.S. Marshal Martin Keely of the Northern District of Alabama.
On Friday, Morgan said he didn’t want to call the couple Bonnie and Clyde.
“That only encourages people to be copycats,” the sheriff said. “There’s nothing glamorous about death. There’s nothing glamorous about taking hostages.”