After killing robber, 'I am the farthest thing from a hero'


Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Mike Clary

Published October 22, 2012


Just before midnight on a Sunday, a Miramar couple and their college student daughter were preparing for bed in their home in a gated community. Suddenly, three masked intruders tried to bull their way through the front door.

Armed with a handgun, the 55-year-old homeowner opened fire, falling backward to the floor as he pulled the trigger. One of the would-be robbers, hit by several bullets, collapsed on the front porch. The other two ran for their lives.

Police called the Sept. 30 shooting justified. The man's 24-year-old daughter said, "My father is a hero. We're just fortunate to be alive."

Yet few who have been in similar situations see themselves that way.

"I am the farthest thing from a hero," said Bruce Flanders, 59, who killed a would-be robber while working at a convenience store five years ago. "I was scared to death.''

For many shooters, "the common denominator is a fear that their lives are in danger," said Boca Raton psychologist Laurence Miller. "They would say, 'I had no choice.'"

In the summer of 2007, there were several so-called stand your ground shootings in South Florida. Here are the stories of three who used deadly force:

'I hope I am never in that situation again'

Hugo Villalta, 48, a fourth generation watchmaker, was behind the counter of his Bentley's 1900 Jewelers in May when two men came inside his Fort Lauderdale store and opened fire. Instinctively, Villalta said, he reached for the handgun he had kept under the counter for 16 years but had never used. Behind him were his wife and 23-year-old son.

"There were 18 shots fired in 53 seconds, and I fired 12 of them. It was a situation where there is no time to think. The kid came in shooting, and I was just reacting. People think you have time to think, but you don't, even though it seems time has slowed."

Hit in the head, Damian James, 17, of Miami Gardens died hours later. Devaughan Heard, 24, of Opa-locka, was wounded and is doing 25 years in prison.

"It changed my life," said Villalta. "I look at people differently. You think about the time you have remaining in this life."

"In the days right afterwards, it's bad. You replay it. But time passes. We pray every morning before we open the store. We pray for everyone, because everybody has different situations. We all have problems."

Villalta said he has never considered getting out of the family business.

"It's not about being a jeweler," he said. "Crime is everywhere. You go 16 years, and one day something happens. You can't be afraid. You have to live."

'I was waiting to be killed'

John Lovell, 76, an ex-Marine and retired commercial pilot, was eating a late night dinner in a Plantation sandwich shop in June when two armed men entered and demanded money. Lovell and the lone employee complied.

But when the robbers herded them into a back room and ordered them to the floor, Lovell said he feared execution. He was not standing his ground, he insists. "I was waiting to be killed," he said.

When the robber closest to him seemed momentarily distracted, Lovell said he rolled toward the floor and pulled out a concealed .45-caliber pistol from behind his back. He fired all seven shots.

Donicio Arrindell, 22, of North Lauderdale, was killed, and accomplice Frederick Gadson, 23, of Fort Lauderdale, was wounded.

In 2009, Gadson pleaded no contest to attempted armed robbery and the death of his partner. He was sentenced to 12 years.

"I wasn't thinking about self-defense; I was in fear for my life," said Lovell, now a commercial photographer. "When I got home at 4 a.m. that morning, I went to the canal over there and got down on my knees," he said, indicating the waterway just yards from his townhouse. "I thanked the Lord for my life, and I prayed for the souls of the two robbers. They met their fate."

'I didn't want to kill him'

Bruce Flanders was pulling a Sunday shift at the Super Stop on Pines Boulevard across from McArthur High School in August when two men, including one armed with a shortgun, came in. Although the Muslim owner of the store, a friend of Flanders, disapproved of guns, Flanders had been robbed and pistol whipped years earlier. He had a Ruger .357 Magnum beneath the counter.

"When the guy came around a stack of beer cases with the shotgun, I dropped and reached for the gun while yelling, 'Don't do it.' He leveled the weapon and I fired twice," said Flanders, a machinist who still fills in when needed.

Norman L. Thompson, 21, of Miramar, was hit once in the stomach yet ran to alley before collapsing 50 yards away. He died in surgery at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.

His accomplice, Joe Willie Walden, 28, was found hiding in a trash bin. He was sentenced to eight and a half years.

Months after the shooting, Flanders said Thompson's girlfriend showed up at the store. "She wanted to find out why I killed him," he said. "I told her I didn't want to kill him.

"To this day I have no remorse," said Flanders, who still practices at a gun range. "At the time, my son was 23 years old. I can imagine how [Thompson's] folks feel. But I did the right thing.

"There's no glory in it, and I don't wish it on anybody. But I say, 'Stand your ground.' If deadly force is the only way to save your life, so be it."