Polk deputies search for suspects who pistol-whipped, robbed man

- He was pistol whipped and robbed in his own neighborhood. Now the search is on for a pair of suspects who targeted a Winter Haven man late Sunday night.

The attack happened near Elliot Lane and Stevenson Road Southeast. But, it's what the suspects did next that could help investigators find them

21-year-old Gary Cooper and his girlfriend Stephanie Atkinson were walking in their neighborhood Sunday night around 11:45 p.m.  It was not a normal stroll. They were searching for a missing cat.

Unfortunately, an SUV full of criminals was searching for something, too. They were looking for easy targets.

"They came up to the stop sign and got up next to us," Cooper said. "I put her on my right side and told her stay out of their way, something might happen. He got out of the car so I pushed her away. At that moment, he pulled out a pistol, he pointed it at me, he slapped me on the side of the face with it here and basically told me, 'give me everything you have'."

Everything he had was a wallet filled with two dollars.

"Him and the other guy that got out of the car kept punching me, kept attacking, pushing me, shoving me," Cooper said.

"I was screaming more for our roommate so he could actually try to intervene," Atkinson said.

The beating stopped. And, they thought the attack was over. That is, until the vehicle turned around.

"As we were running back up the road, they chased us and waved the gun out the window," Cooper said. "So, we cut through our neighbor's yard and back here on the porch. Maybe once they realized there wasn't a whole lot in my wallet, that's why they turned around and chased us."

In the dark, attacked at random, it wasn't easy to get a clear look at the suspects' faces. Thankfully, their appetite for crime and fast food gave deputies a their first lead.

"Fortunately, we were able to get some sort of a video surveillance photo of the suspects and the suspect vehicle because they then went and used one of the victim's credit cards at a McDonald's in Lakeland," said Carrie Horstman, Public Information Officer at the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

If there's one good thing about criminals, it's that they don't always think things through.

"I'm glad you got a nice dinner at McDonalds out of it," Cooper joked.

While the cuts and bruises heal, Cooper and Atkinson are just grateful nobody pulled the trigger.

"They had the opportunity to shoot us, they just didn't. I am really thankful for that, honestly, because it could've been a lot worse," Cooper said.

Though two people attacked Cooper, he thought he saw four people total in the silver SUV. He also recalls seeing a blue glow inside the vehicle, perhaps from a stereo system or interior lightning.

If anyone has information about this incident or recognizes these suspects they are urged to contact Detective Brannon at 863-298-6379.

Anyone with information who wants to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call 1-800-226-tips or log onto www.HeartlandCrimestoppers.com.

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