Masked robbers target Pinellas County businesses

- The search is on in Pinellas County for a pair of masked criminals.

Deputies believe the men held up two different businesses last week - same gun, same disguise.

The suspects targeted Kwik Food and Deli on 46th Avenue North in unincorporated St. Petersburg Tuesday, December, 15. Two days later, investigators believe the same men hit the nearby Regions Bank on Starkey Road in unincorporated Largo.

Although the suspects were careful to shield their faces, detectives now have a very clear facial composite to work with.

Customers and employees at Kwik Food and Deli say the store is more of a neighborhood gathering place.

"We know everybody," said owner Hossain Bakul. "We have been doing business over 15 years."

Bakul said the business has never been targeted by robbers. That is, until last Tuesday.

"Somebody did something really bad with us. Now, we are really scared when we do business," said Bakul.

Surveillance pictures show a clerk on with his hands in the air. His name is Raj. One minute, he was doing his job. The next, he was a hostage.

"Just all of a sudden, just gunpoint," Bakul said. "And, he said 'hands up, just give me all your money from the register.' So, he cooperated with them, which we give that instruction to employees. If anything happens like this, don't do anything. Just give it away, whatever they needed, because your life is very important."

The men got away with cash. But, it wasn't enough for them to stop holding innocent people at gunpoint.
  
On Thursday, Pinellas deputies got another robbery call. This one came from the Regions Bank. The suspects didn't bother changing their m.o., right down to their white shoe, white glove disservice.

"We have two suspects. Their descriptions are quite similar," said Corporal Spencer Gross with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "Their body types are quite similar. The handgun that is being used in each incident is very similar, the clothing they are utilizing, the t-shirts or rags they are using to disguise their faces."

With the help of a witness, detectives released a composite on Tuesday. It's the face, unmasked, of the suspect with the gun.

"No one was hurt in either one of these incidences, thank goodness, but it's only a matter of time when you have two subjects running around with a gun," Gross said.

It's back to business at Kwik Food and Deli. They may be a few dollars short in the register, but at least there's a safe staff behind it.

"Thank God his life is safe, that is what will count," said Bakul. "Life is very important. Money can't buy life."

Despite his losses, Bakul has a very forgiving heart. He said if the suspects turn themselves in, he will not press charges.

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