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Date of Issue: December 13, 2007

Customer service: Attorney provides aid in minutes after shooting

Bruce Henke arrived to Island Mail & More on a Wednesday morning with his hands full - two shopping bags and a cup of Starbucks coffee.

He was keeping ahead in this holiday season, hoping to find boxes for two gifts.

Henke arrived to the Holmes Beach shop at about 10:05 a.m., just minutes after owner Sue Normand opened the store. Already she had conducted business with one couple and was waiting on another person.

Henke noticed the customer stood facing Normand, with a small box on the counter.

The man was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, but Henke, an attorney in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t think much about his get-up.

“I noticed the fact that the gentleman’s hood was up,” said Henke, who was staying at a condo in Holmes Beach. “Having said that, I sort of passed that off - for Florida standards the morning was a bit chilly.” Henke himself was dressed like a visiting northerner who considers 50-plus on the warm side. “I was wearing flip-flops,” he said.

Henke stood by, a shopping bag in each hand, as Normand waited on the man.

She gave the man’s box a shake. “Something inside was loose,” Henke said.

Normand then offered the man some packaging, but he declined. There was a bit more talk between Normand and the other customer as Henke stepped away from the counter and set his bags down to look around the store.

“I turned my back to them and walked toward this display,” Henke said. “And that is why I believe I wasn’t shot.”

As he browsed, Henke said he heard “what sounded like a big ‘pop,’ like if somebody blew up a bag and clapped it with their hands together and it burst.”

He didn’t immediately think he’d heard a gunshot.

“I turned around,” Henke remembered. “It was happening very fast, but it seemed slow to me. It took me a second or two to figure out what was happening.”

Henke saw the man run from the store, heading south, and never clearly saw the suspect’s face, just a profile.

Henke also heard Sue Normand scream, “I’ve been shot” and he saw her fall to the floor behind the counter.

“I rushed over to her,” he said in a telephone interview with The Islander. “She was screaming and very upset and I said, ‘Are you badly hurt?’ She said, ‘Yes.’”

Henke stepped over Normand to reach her telephone. He called 911 and a dispatcher told Henke how to best control the bleeding until emergency medical personnel arrived.

“The 911 gentleman did a wonderful job,” said Henke, who recalled saying repeatedly, “Please, send someone as soon as possible.”

Normand remained conscious as Henke pressed paper towels against her wound. Later, awaiting surgery at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Normand recalled Henke’s life-saving aid.

The time between when Henke called 911 and emergency medical technicians arrived was less than four minutes, but the two inside Island Mail & More said they were aware of all the seconds.

“I was worried,” Henke said, but he also “felt like as long as Sue was conscious she would be OK.”

Henke remained on the scene of the shooting for an hour afterward, talking with police investigators about what he saw and heard.

He remembered an officer telling him, “Sir, you are a lucky man. You could have been shot.” Until then, Henke said, he hadn’t really had time to think about the events of the morning.

“I was never afraid for me,” he said. “I was afraid for her.”

Like Normand and the police, Henke left Island Mail & More Dec. 5 not knowing of the gunman’s motive, if any. “I didn’t think it was a robbery because he didn’t make any attempt to get any money at all,” Henke said.

That afternoon, Henke telephoned his sister to talk with her about his experience and then tried to relax.

The next day, as scheduled, he flew home to Ohio - without the boxes for his holiday gifts, but with an eagerness to talk with Sue Normand and know she’s recovering.

“I think the thing that bothers me the most about what happened is the randomness of the event and the fact that in a place like Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island that can happen,” Henke said. “If it can happen there, it really can happen anywhere. I think that’s really sad.”

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