CANDACE J. SAMOLINSKI
of The Tampa Tribune

Robert J. Metz made it a point to know most everyone in his neighborhood, beeping his car horn whenever he drove by anyone who was outside.

If somebody was building something, the 47-year-old construction worker was there to offer advice and often lend a hand.

But his happy-go-lucky demeanor masked a mental illness that was slowly consuming Metz, relatives say.

Maria Pittaras, 28, was something of an enigma in the neighborhood. She moved to the Turtle Lakes subdivision at the Pasco- Hillsborough counties line about a year ago, just around the corner from Metz and his wife, Carolyn, Pittaras'father recalls.

Neighbors didn\'t see her outside much; she did most of her real estate-related work from home. She kept her yard immaculate and occasionally entertained friends with outdoor barbecues, neighbors say.

Pittaras and Metz weren\'t friends, but their worlds collided early Wednesday morning. Pasco County sheriff\'s deputies say Metz donned a mask and crept into the woman\'s bedroom, awakening her with a knife to her throat.

She managed to grab her gun from her nightstand and shot the intruder; he died almost instantly. Sheriff\'s officials later determined the shooting was in self-defense and won\'t bring charges.

The violent episode, the first of its kind there, has divided a neighborhood already grappling with increasing property crimes. But the young woman\'s father feels no ambivalence.

\"I gave her that gun for protection. She is a good girl,\" said Spiros Pittaras of Palm Harbor. \"She feels terrible about this. That man\'s mental problems are finished ... hers are just beginning.\"

SOMETIME BEFORE 2 a.m., Metz donned a dark mask and gloves, grabbed a knife and crawled into his neighbor\'s home through a window, sheriff\'s spokesman Kevin Doll said.

Metz crept into the bedroom as the woman slept, jumped on top of her and held the knife to her throat. She grabbed her .38-caliber pistol and fired two shots, striking Metz in the neck, Doll said.

Pittaras also is struggling to come to terms with the shooting, her father said.

\"She\'s a big girl and she will have to decide if she wants to go back to that house,\" he said. \"This is a terrible thing to have happened. Anyone, especially women, should understand why she had to do what she did.\"