shot dead attacking neighbor
Robert J. Metz made it a
point to know most everyone in his neighborhood, beeping his car horn whenever
he drove by anyone who was outside.
If somebody was building something, the
47-year-old construction worker was there to offer advice and often lend a hand.
But his happy-go-lucky demeanor masked a mental
illness that was slowly consuming Metz, relatives say.
Maria Pittaras, 28, was something of an enigma
in the neighborhood. She moved to the Turtle Lakes subdivision at the Pasco-
Hillsborough counties line about a year ago, just around the corner from Metz
and his wife, Carolyn, Pittaras' father recalls.
Neighbors didn't see her outside much; she did
most of her real estate-related work from home. She kept her yard immaculate and
occasionally entertained friends with outdoor barbecues, neighbors say.
Pittaras and Metz weren't friends, but their
worlds collided early Wednesday morning. Pasco County sheriff's deputies say
Metz donned a mask and crept into the woman's bedroom, awakening her with a
knife to her throat.
She managed to grab her gun from her nightstand
and shot the intruder; he died almost instantly. Sheriff's officials later
determined the shooting was in self-defense and won't bring charges.
The violent episode, the first of its kind
there, has divided a neighborhood already grappling with increasing property
crimes. But the young woman's father feels no ambivalence.
``I gave her that gun for protection. She is a
good girl,'' said Spiros Pittaras of Palm Harbor. ``She feels terrible about
this. That man's mental problems are finished ... hers are just beginning.''
SOMETIME BEFORE 2 a.m., Metz donned a dark mask
and gloves, grabbed a knife and crawled into his neighbor's home through a
window, sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.
Metz crept into the bedroom as the woman slept,
jumped on top of her and held the knife to her throat. She grabbed her
.38-caliber pistol and fired two shots, striking Metz in the neck, Doll said.
Somewhere around that time, Carolyn Metz awoke
with a start and found herself alone in bed. She looked around the house, then
wandered outside, relatives say. When she saw the sheriff's patrol cars, she
knew something was terribly wrong. More than an hour later, she learned her
husband was dead.
Those closest to Robert Metz say they witnessed
his gradual slide into a nightmare of manic depression over the last few weeks.
They watched helplessly as he stopped taking his medication and his personality
changed. Relatives, who didn't want to be identified in the newspaper, said he
likely was in the grips of his mental illness when he went into Pittaras' home.
Still, many neighbors find that explanation
hard to believe.
``Why would a married man with kids pick that
particular house?'' Maurice Sanders asked. ``There has to be more to it than
anyone is saying. He was the nicest guy in the world and wouldn't hurt anyone.
Maybe he was just trying to scare her.''
Others say Pittaras did the right thing in
``I'm shocked something like this happened in
our neighborhood,'' said Steve Bridges. ``It just goes to show that you never
really know people. If you enter someone else's house in the middle of the
night, you are definitely taking your life into your own hands.''
Metz's family, which includes two grown
children who live out of state, gathered at his home Wednesday to share in their
Pittaras also is struggling to come to terms
with the shooting, her father said.
``She's a big girl and she will have to decide
if she wants to go back to that house,'' he said. ``This is a terrible thing to
have happened. Anyone, especially women, should understand why she had to do
what she did.''
Candace J. Samolinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (813) 948-4215
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