Alexa Jones still has nightmares about that day.
It was supposed to be a Saturday to remember, but instead became a weekend she wishes she could forget.
For this 18-year-old and her boyfriend, Richard Hopper, Gasparilla was a tradition. They never missed the parade.
The young Tampa Bay area college couple loved celebrating each year on Bayshore Boulevard.
This year, everything changed in an instant. They could never go back. Alexa and Richie suffered a brutal attack along the parade route that Saturday afternoon.
A stranger would alter their lives forever, picking the young couple as his victims during a bold, brutal attack.
The couple couldn’t believe what was happening. They were shocked, angry and ultimately, terrified. Alexa was grabbed and groped. Her boyfriend, Richard, was hit so hard that he was left unconscious on the sidewalk.
And the bad guy? He was nowhere to be found. He got away — for a while.
Alexa told WFLA during an exclusive interview, “There’s not a night I lay my head down that I don’t relive it, and I go through it every single night.”
The tears streamed down her face as she shared the details.
Alexa had reached out to 8 On Your Side on her journey for justice. “I wanted to do this interview. The fact that his family and I are not giving up hope. And we’re not going to stop searching until they’re found.”
She hoped by sharing her story, someone out there – somewhere – might remember a detail.
It worked. Our 8 On Your Side story aired, and witnesses began coming forward. Tampa police tell us the suspect hid out for weeks, thinking he gave cops the slip by going off the radar and laying low.
But, social media remained on, and people began talking.
TPD Spokesperson Eddy Durkin said, “There’s cameras out there everywhere. People are filming, and people are informing us, letting us know what’s happening in our community cause they want it to be safe just like we want it to.”
So, how do you track down one guy amidst thousands? You start from the very beginning and build the facts of the case. By contacting 8 On Your Side, Alexa Jones took a brave step in the healing process by helping in the search for a suspect
Then, as the story gained momentum, it also resonated with countless citiznes. They, too, wanted an arrest. Then, the crucial key – a witness. Someone out there did know something. Or, should we say – someone. The suspect.
A witness saw our story and said it sounded familiar. The guy on the run, he told police, was a high school buddy and a Facebook friend. Police would get their guy, nearly two months to the day after the attack.
Alexa and Richard continue their recovery, grateful they survived.