From the Tampa Bay Online of December 7, 2008
St. Pete Storeowner Chases, Shoots At Armed Robbers
When John Silva opened his St. Petersburg variety store about 9 a.m. Sunday, he brought Gertrude with him.
Gertrude, he says, was his grandfather's .22 caliber Sentinel Arms revolver. Silva's other gun, Betsy – a .380 caliber semiautomatic pistol – was taken by St. Petersburg Police Saturday as evidence.
Two men came in to John's Variety, 208 4th St. N., at about 8 p.m. Saturday, says Silva. Their faces were covered with something resembling a ninja mask, he says.
They pointed what looked like a .45 caliber handgun at him.
"They told me and a customer to 'get on the floor, give me your money,'" says Silva on the phone while tending to a customer looking for Tylenol. "I moved as if going down on the floor, reached for my gun, stood back up with the .380 in my hands and they ran like jackrabbits."
Silva, 53, says he followed the men out of the store.
"I let three rounds go," he says. "Unfortunately, I missed them."
Not long after Silva chased the would-be robbers, St. Petersburg police arrested two men they say tried to rob the store.
One, Benjamin Roland Jones, 19, 934 10th Ave. S., was picked up on Central Avenue.
The other, Cory Jay Smith 21, was found hiding in a nearby lake and received a minor bite from a police K-9 dog, police said.
Smith, 985 Melrose Ave. S., is being held in the Pinellas County Jail on a bond of $50,000.
A former cook aboard the submarine U.S.S. Andrew Jackson and, more recently, a Merchant Marine, Silva says his actions were partly the result of his military training, partly instinctual.
"I was taught how to use a gun in the Merchant Marines," he says. "Just how to use and shoot a gun, what to do if we get pirates on board. Nothing like what I had to deal with last night, close, face-to-face contact. I don't consider myself tough. But I can handle myself. I used to be a bouncer."
When the two men pointed a gun at him, Silva says he just reacted.
"I wasn't thinking," he says. "But you ain't getting my money. I instinctively grabbed the gun which I call Betsy. A girl's name, an appropriate name as far as I am concerned."
Gertrude, he says, may be old, but still works.
"It used to be my grandfather's gun, from when he was the harbor master for Provincetown, Mass.," he says.
Silva says he was hoping the guys he shot at were connected to other recent armed robberies in St. Petersburg.
"This would have stopped them and they could go to jail for a long freaking time," he says.
However, after questioning the two men, police say they do not appear to be connected with recent armed robberies that left two brothers – owners of different stores - wounded.
Silva says there was no question about opening up his store after the robbery.
"I had no second thoughts," he says. "I just brought another gun from home."