FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Some are calling a former U.S. Marine a hero for shooting two men — killing one — during a botched robbery of a sandwich shop in Plantation, Fla. But the men’s friends and family want to know how he could gun down their loved ones with impunity.
John Lovell had just finished dinner at about 11:15 p.m. Wednesday when, Plantation police say, two men, armed with guns, rushed inside a Subway restaurant and demanded cash. After robbing the store, the men turned to Lovell. They wanted his money, police said. But like his attackers, Lovell was armed.
The retired military man opened fire, shooting dead Donicio Arrindell, 22, of North Lauderdale, and critically injuring Fredrick Gadson, 21, of Fort Lauderdale.
Lovell, 71, of Plantation, has a valid concealed weapons permit and is not expected to be charged in the shooting, said police spokesman Detective Robert Rettig. Gadson, however, faces a myriad of felony charges that could include murder, he said. Under Florida law, anyone who commits a felony like armed robbery resulting in a death can be held accountable for the capital offense.
"He feared for his life," Rettig said of Lovell. "And if he’s in fear for his life, then he has a right to defend himself, even if it means severe bodily injury or death."
Florida law gives people the right of "self-defense without the duty to retreat." That means individuals can use deadly force virtually anywhere to prevent death or serious injury.
Lovell could not be reached for comment despite calls to his home and knocks on his front door.
His attorney Wesley White, said he has known Lovell for 19 years and described him as a "quiet Clint Eastwood-type you don’t want to mess with." He is a former Marine who was a member of the helicopter detail that transported Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, White said.
The retired Pan-Am and Delta Airline pilot has held a concealed weapons permit since September 1990. Three months earlier, Plantation police had arrested Lovell for having a loaded .9 mm and three extra clips behind the driver’s seat of a Corvette without proper permits for the gun. The Broward State’s Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in that case.
"He’s one heck of a shot," White said.
According to a police statement: Arrindell ordered Lovell to hand over his wallet. He intentionally dropped it on the floor and refused to pick it up, saying he was afraid. That’s when Arrindell ordered him into the women’s restroom.
"The victim believed he would be executed and when he noticed (Arrindell) distracted . . . reached behind his back, removed his loaded .45 caliber handgun from his holster and fired seven rounds," the statement said.
Arrindell was struck twice — once in the head and once in the stomach — and collapsed. Officers found him face down, wearing sunglasses and a bandanna with a gun near his left hand. Gadson was hit in the chest and ran from the store. Police dogs found him hiding in the hedges of a nearby bank.
Both men were taken to Broward General Medical Center, where Arrindell died and Gadson was in critical condition Thursday.
Sebastian Shakespeare, 23, was going to buy a sandwich at the Subway when he saw Lovell, gun in hand, standing over Arrindell. A former employee, Shakespeare worked the night shift and often worried about getting robbed.
Lovell, he said, did a good deed. "A civilian was a hero," he said.
Lovell’s neighbor agreed.
"I’m proud he did it," said Bryan Sklar, 45. "If I was in the same situation . . . I hope I could’ve done the same thing."
But Gadson’s grandmother, Rosa Jones, said: "He ain’t no hero. He is a murderer and God will serve justice."
She and her husband, Ivory Jones, pastor of a Fort Lauderdale church, sat on their front porch in Fort Lauderdale Thursday wondering how a man could shoot two people and not go to jail. They said they’d also been victims, such as when they recently returned home and noticed more than $2,000 worth of landscaping equipment was stolen. But they never resorted to violence, they said.
They said their grandson sometimes hung with the wrong crowd but never got into legal trouble. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he has no arrest record. They said Gadson, who never finishing high school, got tired of low-wage jobs and was pursuing his GED.
Arrindell, friends said, found himself in a similar situation: No high school diploma and working odd jobs, so he went back to school. He was a man with past troubles, including a 2004 arrest for carrying a concealed weapon, but he was improving his life, they said. He recently bought a car and had a girlfriend.
Kathy East, 54, whose son went to school with Arrindell, said she took him in two years ago when he and his mother had a falling out.
"I’m absolutely stunned," she said Thursday.