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She’s the grandma hero who died trying to take down a gunman after he shot her toddler grandson dead while they shopped at Publix.
Three days after a gunman shot and killed 69-year-old Litha Varone and her sweet grandbaby, neighbors and friends were still in shock over how such a horrible thing could happen to such good people.
“I don’t know why God took such an angel,” longtime friend and neighbor Dan Carr said Sunday outside his home in The Acreage, a quiet community north of Royal Palm Beach. “I’ve never had one negative thought about her, ever. I can’t believe this happened to such an innocent person.”
Gunman Timothy Wall walked into a Publix in Royal Palm Beach around 11:30 a.m. Thursday with evil on his mind. Police say he pulled a gun on Varone’s grandson as he sat in a shopping cart, killing him with one bullet. Surveillance video shows Varone fighting back, trying to take Wall’s gun. But he knocked her down and shot her dead, then turned the gun on himself.
Before the shooting, Wall posted a threat on his Facebook page saying he wanted to kill people, including children.
“I have been through a lot, but this is the most shocking thing that ever happened,” Carr said. “I’m not at all surprised that she fought back. If something needed to be done on the street, she is the one who would get it done.”
Varone had a longtime nursing career at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach before retiring, Carr said.
One friend described her on Facebook as a devoted grandmother and a leader who was kind, honest and professional.
“She believed in all people and always gave the benefit of the doubt,” the post said. “Her career was exceptional. She loved nurses and nursing. She was a forever friend. She loved her family most of all and was a devoted gramma. She left a mark on this work and she is loved by many.”
Varone and her late husband moved to Palm Beach County from Miami in the early 1990s to “get away from the rat race,” Carr said.
Varone was married to Ken Varone for nearly 42 years before his death on June 23, 2015.
According to his obituary, Varone’s husband was born and raised in Miami and was part of the administrative support for police departments in Miami Shores and Sunny Isles Beach.
The couple raised two sons and a daughter.
Two of the kids followed in their father’s footsteps and went into police work, Carr said.
On Sunday, a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy was parked outside the nearby home of the toddler’s parents, keeping reporters at bay.
“We are very close-knit here, very peaceful,” Carr said of the neighborhood where he’s lived since 1984. “On the Fourth of July and Christmas we have bonfires together, all of the neighbors.”
He remembers Varone taking special delight in her grandkids.
“She would walk the children up and down the street like a grandma,” he said.
On Sunday, a memorial continued to grow in front of the Publix at The Crossroads plaza at 1180 Royal Palm Beach Blvd.
A line of people stopped by taking to take photos and leave flowers. Some knelt in silence in front of the memorial. Others cried.
Mary Slattery says she felt compelled to drive up from Boynton Beach on Sunday afternoon to leave flowers.
“This has really impacted the entire community,” she said. “I’m a grandmother and I could have been shopping with my grandchild.”
When she first heard the news, Slattery says she assumed the shooting was related to some kind of domestic dispute.
“But when we heard it was random, it really freaked me and my daughter out,” Slattery said. “She has a 5-year-old. My daughter couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to go out.”
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Soon after Slattery departed, the skies opened up and it started to rain.
Two Publix employees quickly emerged with a silver and blue tarp and placed it with care over the memorial to protect it from the rain.
Varone would have been 70 on Sept. 16.
One friend took to Facebook, urging the world to remember the devoted grandma for her bravery that day.
“Her fighting off the gunman saved lives that day,” the post said. “She is a hero and should be remembered for that.”