A Missouri couple authorities have likened to Bonnie and Clyde went on a multi-state crime spree that ended early Friday morning in a shootout with police.
The couple was driving down a Florida highway when law enforcement tracked them down. But after indicating they weren’t ready to surrender just yet, police were forced to take action, leaving suspect Blake Fitzgerald dead after an exchange of gunfire. It is unclear at this point who opened fire first.
Fitzgerald and his female accomplice, Brittany Nicole Harper, were wanted for a series of robberies and abductions across the South.
Though few details regarding the shootout were immediately available, a video posted by the local station WEAR-TV features flashing police lights and what sounds like a barrage of gunfire:
Harper was arrested and taken to a local hospital for her wounds, according to a statement from the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.
The shootout began after a 3-hour police chase that began at around 10 p.m. Thursday evening.
Authorities finally cornered the couple Friday morning at the end of a rural road.
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Sgt. Rich Aloy said that because a shooting took place, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was taking over the investigation. He provided no other details regarding the chase and shooting, though he said it was fortunate more people were not hurt. He suspected there would have been greater damage had the shootout occurred during the day.
Fitzgerald and Harper’s crimes, which took place in Alabama and Georgia, followed a similar pattern, authorities said. People were robbed, kidnapped and let go unharmed, usually after their vehicle was stolen.
Before the events that led to Friday’s shootout, police in Joplin, Missouri, had plans to interrogate the two about a Jan. 22 break-in there in which guns were stolen from a home. Police also suspect the couple in two Florida robberies in Walnut Hill and Destin on Wednesday, according to U.S. Marshals spokesman Martin Keely.
The U.S. Marshals announced Thursday that they were offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of the couple they were calling a "modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.”
The rap sheet of these two certainly merits the infamous title.
Fitzgerald and Harper have been charged with robbing and abducting a hotel clerk in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and taking his car to the Birmingham area. They released the clerk in the upscale suburb of Vestavia Hills, where a woman was briefly abducted by two people who stole her family's SUV.
On Monday night, a gunman held up a young clerk at a Murphy Express station along Interstate 75 in south Georgia, taking money from the safe and cigarettes before forcing the clerk into an SUV where his female accomplice waited, authorities said. The couple drove about 15 miles before releasing the clerk unharmed, Perry police Lt. Ken Ezell said.
The hotel clerk who was abducted in Alabama, Kyle Dease, told Al.com that he spoke with his captors during the two-hour drive from Tuscaloosa to metro Birmingham. He said they told him they hoped to make it to Florida to get married and start a new life together.
The male abductor also told Dease he did not plan on going back to prison.
Missouri records show that in 2013, Fitzgerald and an accomplice were charged with burglarizing a Joplin woman at knifepoint in her home before taking her purse, jewelry, electronics and a car. Fitzgerald entered an Alford plea - not admitting guilt but acknowledging the prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a conviction - and was sentenced in 2014 to a suspended seven-year prison term.
During the same period of time, Fitzgerald also was sentenced in southwestern Missouri's Jasper County to a 120-day term in a drunken-driving case. Last July, Fitzgerald pleaded guilty in a Missouri assault case and was sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term.