Jewelry kiosk employee describes theft, shooting at Citrus Park mall

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A day after an attempted jewelry theft at the Citrus Park Mall ended in gunfire, an employee detailed Tuesday how the terrifying ordeal unfolded.

Cindy Varela was working at the Meher Jewelers kiosk Monday evening when a man asked to see a necklace, valued at nearly $10,000.

"He actually tried on the chain and put it around his neck," Varela said. "I never thought he would put on the chain and run."

Hillsborough County deputies said that's exactly what happened. The thief took off through the mall as one of Varela's coworkers chased after him. Moments later, the suspect fired one shot at the worker.

Just outside the mall's entrance, the jewelry store worker tackled the would-be thief. Deputies said the shoplifter again fired his gun. 

"It was pretty scary. I've never seen this in my life before. I never thought this guy would have a gun, like shoplifting is just take and go," Varela told FOX 13. "It was very terrifying. I thought my co-employee was going to lose his life."

The suspect fled in a getaway car, believed to be a beige or white Hyundai Elantra. But he didn't get away with the jewelry.

Valera said she's just glad her coworker is okay.

"You could have stolen somebody's life," she said, as if speaking to the shoplifter. "I really care for him and he's my best friend and it would have been sad if you took his life."

The incident forced the mall to briefly evacuate.

Deputies described the suspect as a white man, between 20 and 25 years old, 6' to 6'3" with a medium build.  He has brown hair, eye glasses, and was last seen wearing a white long sleeve shirt with green sleeves, and khaki shorts.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office or Crime Stoppers, which is offering a $3,000 reward.