Wanted man used partner as 'shield' during shootout with deputies

- The final moments of a multi-state crime by the so-called "modern-day Bonnie and Clyde" couple ended with Blake Fitzgerald using his partner Brittany Harper as a human shield as Florida deputies opened fire, investigators revealed Friday afternoon.

The couple led police on a chase from Escambia County to Santa Rosa County after report of a robbery. The chase ended with a shootout between the couple and authorities occurred around 1:30 a.m. Friday.

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The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office can confirm Blake Fitzgerald is deceased and Brittany Harper, wounded taken into...

Posted by Escambia County Sheriff's Office on Friday, February 5, 2016

According to U.S. Marshals, Fitzgerald was pronounced dead at the scene. Harper was wounded in her legs and was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said she is under guard waiting to be arrested upon her release.

The sheriffs said she faces charges of false imprisonment, home invasion, and grand theft auto. She will remain in Florida until “they are done with her” due to the severity of her crimes there unless federal investigators get involved. Sheriff Morgan believed there would be a strong possibility of a federal case because of the nature of the robberies which involved taking a hostage from the scene in many cases.

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The police chase started late Thursday near Pensacola International Airport and then the couple led authorities on a foot chase near East Pensacola Heights.

Fitzgerald and Harper, believed to be in their 30s, had been on the run since Sunday and are suspected of committing crimes in Missouri, Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the last week.

Thursday night’s chase and Friday morning’s shootout are believed to have followed a Famous Footwear robbery, according to investigators.

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Their crime spree began in Missouri on January 26. They are wanted in two separate car chases, according to Cape Girardeau Country Sheriff’s Office Capt. David James in Missouri. Later that day, the couple allegedly broke into a Cape Girardeau house, ditched the Cadillac, and stole a red Chevrolet Trailblazer, which may have been used to drive to Alabama.

Investigators said the couple drove to Alabama and abducted a hotel clerk, tried to rob a McDonald’s manager and briefly kidnapped a woman outside Birmingham before stealing her SUV on Sunday. Those crimes happened within a two-hour span across a 60-mile distance, according to authorities.

The couple was then involved in an armed robbery Monday night at a central Georgia gas station. Perry Police didn’t give any further details of the robbery.

After the alleged gas station robbery, Fitzgerald and Harper entered Alvin’s Island Tropical Department store in Destin, Fla. The couple walked around the store checking out items before meeting in the back of the store, Okaloosa County sheriff’s spokeswoman Michele Nicholson said. Harper left the store while Fitzgerald put items in the basket and brought it to the cashier.

Nicholson said as the cashier began to remove the items from the basket Fitzgerald pulled out a handgun and took an undisclosed amount of cash from the register. According to AL.com, Fitzgerald and Harper were seen heading east.

Hours later, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amber Southhard said the couple was suspected of robbing a Piggly Wiggly. A white, bald man was described as entering the store and escaping with more cash. Southard said the man was wearing an American Eagle sweatshirt and got in a pickup truck driven by a female in a hooded sweatshirt.

No one has been hurt in the string of robberies.

Fitzgerald and Harper are both from Joplin, Mo. The U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Task Force was asked to assist the manhunt and a $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to their arrest.

"They're considered armed and dangerous," Tuscaloosa police Lt. Kip Hart said earlier this week. "We have no idea why they're running or where they're running from or running to."

Missouri public records show Fitzgerald is no stranger to legal troubles. In 2013, he and an accomplice were charged with burglarizing a Joplin woman at knifepoint in her home and making off with her purse, jewelry, electronics and a car.

Fitzgerald entered an Alford plea — not admitting guilt but acknowledging the prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a conviction — and was sentenced in 2014 to a suspended seven-year prison term.

Fitzgerald also was sentenced in southwestern Missouri's Jasper County to a simultaneous 120-day term in a drunken-driving case. Last July, Fitzgerald pleaded guilty in a Missouri assault case and was sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during a press conference on Friday afternoon called the couple being dubbed a "modern-day Bonnie and Clyde" as just “movie romanticism”.

“You hate any time we glamorize crime. That only encourages people,” the sheriffs said during the press conference. “There’s nothing glamorous about death. There’s nothing glamorous about taking hostages.”

He added: “Let’s remember Bonnie and Clyde were a couple of thugs, too”

FOX News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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