UPDATED: Suspect in sexual batteries, home invasions in USF area captured, killed
UPDATE: Charlie Christopher Bates, the 24-year-old suspect linked with a string of home invasions and sexual batteries, has been captured and killed after a car chase that ended in a shootout, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
Charlie Christopher Bates, the 24-year-old suspect linked with a string of home invasions and sexual batteries, has been captured and killed after a car chase that ended in a shootout, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
The suspect allegedly entered the Cambridge Wood Apartments off 42nd street around 11 p.m. and bound four male occupants with duct tape and sexually battered four female USF students, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies say the suspect then invaded the apartment of a female at Eagle’s Point apartment before fleeing to Oaks Apartments on foot, where he forced 25 people attending a party into a room at gunpoint and fired at least one round into the carpet.
Digvijay Patel, a graduate student in management information sciences, and Ashish Sharma, a senior majoring in management information sciences, were surprised when they arrived at the party, a birthday celebration for one of their friends — another USF student — at Oaks apartments and no one opened the door.
A few minutes later they said they heard gunshots. They initally thought it was popping balloons.
“Suddenly there was an African-American guy who came outside and said, ‘Hi. Hello’ and then he just ran. We didn’t know him, but I thought he must be somebody’s friend,” he said.
But when they went in, Patel said, no one was cutting cake.
“Everybody was terrified,” he said. “They kept asking ‘Is he gone?'”
Sharma said his friends told him the suspect had entered the party via an unlocked door and forced all attendees at gun point into a bedroom, telling them to put their cell phones in front of him and give him their money. One person tried to call 911, Sharma said his friends told him, and Bates shot at the carpet before taking cash from the guests and walking out.
“It was normal like it was routine for him,” Patel said.
In a press conference held late Friday morning by Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office, Castor said an alert had been put out to home-owners associations and local communities surrounding the USF area.
The half-day search for Bates extended from Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and 43rdSt. and as far as the east side of the USF Tampa campus (50th Street and Fletcher).
HCSO warned individuals within the perimeter to stay in their homes.
“People should be very cautious when leaving their houses,” McKinnon said. “This man is very dangerous and that’s the way he is going to be treated until we find him. And we will find him.”
The suspect, who police believe is linked to two home invasions in August and September, was caught in a vehicle outside a Waffle House off US-301.
USF sent out an emergency notification early Friday morning warning students and faculty of an “unsafe situation,” but sent out a second alert stating the “event was over.” A third text was later sent asking community members to “remain vigilant.”
University Police spokesman Lt. Chris Daniel said the university determines when to send out emergency notifications based on the threat posed to the USF community. Sometimes issuing an “all clear” is a difficult call to make, he said, as the threat to the USF community could be less even if an investigation is ongoing.
HCSO public information officer Larry McKinnon said police used K9s and helicopters to search the area until 3:30 a.m., including searching vehicles and nearby apartments and alerting cab companies.
McKinnon said he advised students to keep their apartment and vehicle doors locked at all times.