PENSACOLA, Florida — A multi-state manhunt, where the accused criminals had a $10,000 reward posted, came to a deadly end early on Friday morning on a back road in the Florida panhandle. The wanted couple had become known as a modern-day “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Florida law enforcement officials said 30-year-old Blake Fitzgerald and 31-year-old Britney Harper were chased down by deputies and police and were shot when they got out of their truck. The couple was said by police to be attempting to break into an occupied house just south of Milton, Fl. Harper was wounded, Fitzgerald was killed by police gunfire. The events of the shooting and arrest were described below by Florida State Attorney Bill Eddins and Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during a press briefing in Pensacola on Friday.
Their alleged cross-county crime spree started two weeks ago, on January 22nd, when a home in Joplin, Missouri, was robbed and guns were stolen.
They reportedly showed up a few days later in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday night the 30th, where a motel was robbed. The clerk was taken hostage and police said the couple drove his car to suburban Birmingham, about 90 minutes away. He was released unharmed, but shortly thereafter, an SUV was stolen That owner was also briefly taken hostage. Within the hour, there was an attempted robbery of a McDonald’s manager in suburban community of Hoover, Alabama.
After the motel clerk was released, he provided an interesting clue to police in Birmingham. He reported that the couple had talked about going to Panama City, Florida to get married and start a new life.
The next dot on the crime map came from south Georgia, and the small town of Perry, just off I-75. On Monday night, a clerk at a gas station was taken hostage, after the alleged robber took money from the safe and cigarettes. Police said the couple drove him about 15 miles outside of town where he was dropped off and the couple drove away.
The next report of trouble came with the report of two robberies in the Florida panhandle. One, in the town of Walnut Hill. The second in the beach-side town of Fort Walton, where a beach shop, Alvin’s Island, was robbed at gunpoint on Wednesday.
The couple is also suspected in the Wednesday robbery of a rural grocery store in Florida, just south of Atmore, Alabama.
Timeline of the final day of crime spree as reported by the sheriff and state attorney:
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Marshals Service posted a $10,000 reward for information in the case. They referred to the couple as a modern-day “Bonnie & Clyde”, although Fitzgerald and Harper had robbed no banks and had not shot anyone.
A Famous Footwear shoe store was robbed on the north side of Pensacola just before 8pm.
Within an hour, the stolen car reported to be driven by the couple was spotted about 12 miles away on Pensacola Beach. An Escambia County Sheriff’s Deputy began a pursuit.
That chase went through Gulf Breeze, Florida, a Pensacola suburb, across Three Mile Bridge and into the downtown area. By that time, the police officers from Gulf Breeze had joined in, and other officers from Escambia County and the City of Pensacola were waiting on the north side of the bridge.
The couple drove through a busy restaurant area before getting on Interstate 110, which heads north from downtown. They took an exit about four miles later and traveled towards the city’s largest mall, where the law enforcement noose began to tighten.
Somehow, they eluded police and entered a residential area, where they ditched their stolen car. The couple walked not more than a block, then forced their way into a house, taking the family there as hostages for about two hours.
By this time, the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force had joined the hunt, and officers had cordoned off the area. Police units could be seen on almost every corner, but the ground search came up empty.
Then, at 12:25, there was a frantic 9-1-1 call from the family that had been held at gunpoint. The family said their red pickup truck stolen. They gave police a good description of the couple and the vehicle, which had only left a minute before.
The couple had managed to slip through the police lines, and was then spotted on U.S. Highway 90, known locally as Scenic Highway. Within minutes, the chase was on again as the couple exited on to Interstate 10 east and traveled across Escambia Bay and into Santa Rosa County. They took the first exit, and headed south. The pursuit was joined by Santa Rosa County Deputies and the Florida Highway Patrol. The pursuit continued south onto the Garcon Point peninsula.
Ahead of the long line of blue lights in their rear-view mirror, the fugitives turned onto Saragon Lane, where they pulled up alongside a home. At that point, police closed the pursuit and began a stand-off which lasted about 15 minutes.
The people in the house exited through the front door, Deputy United States Marshals moved through the house, holding their position.
According to law enforcement officials, Fitzgerald got out of the stolen truck, and while using Harper as a human shield, headed towards the back door of the house.
Police opened fire at that time, hitting and killing Fitzgerald and wounding Harper.
While official reports are very sketchy, six officers are now on paid leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates the shootings. Sheriff Morgan would not say if there was a shoot-out or if his officers started shooting on their own volition. He also would not say if either Fitzgerald or Harper were even holding a weapon.
Sheriff Morgan said his deputies showed “entirely appropriate behavior” and that the use of deadly force following a high speed chase was in keeping with department policy.
Ms. Harper is in a Pensacola hospital with gunshot wounds to the leg and ankle. State Attorney Bill Eddins says that Escambia County is “Gonna keep her,” and may not give her up for extradition to Missouri, Alabama or Georgia, but that is yet to be sorted out.
Rob Milford is a reporter for Breitbart Texas. You can follow him on Facebook.