Charlie Christopher Bates, the 24-year-old suspect linked with a string of home invasions and sexual batteries, has been killed after a car chase ended in a shootout, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
Bates, who died in custody after being shot, allegedly entered the Cambridge Woods apartment complex off 42nd street around 11 p.m. on Thursday 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 when she began praying to Oaks Apartments on foot, where he forced 25 people attending a party into a bedroom at gunpoint and fired 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 the apartment complex and no one opened the door.
A few minutes later they said they heard gunshots. They initially thought it was balloons popping.
“Suddenly there was a … guy who came outside and said, ‘Hi. Hello,’ and then he just ran,” Patel said. “We didn’t know him, but I thought he must be somebody’s friend.”
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 through an unlocked door and forced the 25 guests 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.
The suspect, who police believe was linked to two home invasions and two other sexual batteries, 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” as an active search for the suspect remained underway. 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., and searched vehicles and nearby apartments, alerting cab companies as well.
McKinnon said he advised students to keep their apartment and vehicle doors locked at all times.
Dean for Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez said the university will offer temporary on-campus housing for the weekend to students impacted by the situation. Students who wish to be relocated should call the Holly M 24-hour help desk at 813-974-7000. Hernandez said students looking to permanently relocate on-campus can discuss options with Housing officials. On-campus housing is currently at 95 percent capacity.
Dean for Students Michael Freeman said the Center for Victim’s Advocacy and Violence Prevention has reached out to the four victims of sexual battery, whose condition could not be disclosed.
The University also intends to reach out to the apartment complex management and owners of establishments with large USF populations to talk about safety, he said.
Freeman said the university will offer Counseling and Victim Advocacy services all weekend via phone to any student who seeks assistance at 813-974-2831 or 813-974-5757.