TAMPA — Until the moments before his life ended there, the neighborhood lake was a peaceful sanctuary for Tony Finley.
The 47-year-old father of three often made the short trip from his home in New Tampa’s Grand Hampton subdivision to the kidney-shaped body of water off Hampton Lake Drive to cast a line and, on a good day, reel in a bass or two. Sometimes Finley took his kids. Other times, he spent quiet hours alone there.
“It was his therapy,” his wife Miriam said.
One recent morning, shortly after sunrise, a passerby spotted a man lying motionless on the lake’s dock. It was Finley. He’d been shot multiple times. First responders arrived and pronounced him dead.
Community message boards lit up with grief, concern and confusion. Residents worried and wondered: Who would kill a beloved neighbor and youth sports coach who had a reputation for helping out whenever he could?
The answer Tampa police provided two days later hit close to home.
The shooter, according to police, was Finley’s next door neighbor. Christopher John Chandler, 22, claimed to have shot Finley after an argument escalated to a fight, records show. Investigators, however, concluded that Chandler planned to kill Finley.
If that’s the case, Finley’s family and friends are left to ponder a yet-unanswered question: Why?
Loving father, caring coach
Born in Indiana and raised in the Cincinnati area, Anthony Finley moved to Tampa in 2002, roughly the same time as the woman he’d marry. He was working for Miriam’s father’s homebuilding company when he was sent to her home to make a repair.
He was handsome, kind and generous, and being handy was a bonus, Miriam Finley recalled. They married in 2012 and moved to Grand Hampton in 2017. They have three children: two sons, ages 15 and 9, and a daughter, also 9.
Finley was an attentive, loving father and helpful neighbor, said Tony Capers, a friend who lives in the neighborhood.
“If you needed something and he ran into you, even if he didn’t know you, he’d be like, can I help you?” Capers said.
When Finley wasn’t on the job as a pool repair technician, he was usually spending time with his family, fishing, or coaching softball and baseball for the North Tampa Athletic Association. All three of the couple’s children played in the league.
People who knew Finley said he had a gift for connecting with kids, especially those who hadn’t played the sport before, and encouraging them to respect the game, their coaches and themselves.
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Gwen Wilson said her son, then 9, was shy, insecure and inexperienced when he came to baseball practice the first time, so Finley took him under his wing, made him feel comfortable and helped him catch up to other players. Wilson said Finley’s lessons extended well beyond the baseball diamond and that he kept in touch with her son, now 17, long after he left the team.
“Coach Tony taught my son to have faith in himself, to not be afraid to try new things, to work hard at a goal, to have fun, to be a good teammate, and that everyone is worthy and can contribute even if they start out by far the worst player on the team,” she said.
Finley often fished in the wee hours, when it was cooler and quieter and he could take time for himself. He texted his wife about 12:30 am on July 14 to tell her he was heading to the lake.
About six hours later, the passerby spotted him on the dock and called for help.
Investigation leads to house next door
An arrest affidavit lays out what led investigators to arrest Chandler on July 16.
Detectives interviewed four witnesses who said they arrived at the lake shortly before 1 am and said a Jeep was the only vehicle there. The witnesses said they saw a man, presumed to be Finley, retrieve what they figured was fishing equipment from the Jeep.
The witnesses walked to the shoreline to hang out for a while, and as they walked back up the path toward the parking lot, they said they heard three to seven gunshots. Two of the witnesses heard a male voice softly calling for help. They saw a white car in the parking lot that two witnesses identified as an Audi sedan.
The witnesses then saw a man, wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled tight around his head, walking up the dock toward the parking lot. He appeared to be trying to hide something in his waistband. The witnesses said they ran and hid and from their hiding spot watched the man get into the Audi and speed away toward the community’s gate.
An autopsy showed Finley was shot three times, according to the affidavit, and two of the shots were fired into his back as he was lying face down on the dock.
Surveillance video and a tip led investigators to a house on Heritage Point Drive, next door to Finley’s, where a white Audi A4 was parked in the driveway. The car was registered to Chandler’s mother, and Chandler matched the witnesses’ description. Surveillance video from a nearby house showed what appeared to be the Audi traveling past the house toward the lake shortly after 1 am that morning and returning about 4 am
Detectives interviewed Kristopher Chandler, who said he drove to the lake and saw Finley on the dock. Chandler claimed the two men began to argue — if Chandler told police what the argument was about, it’s not included in the affidavit — and the argument escalated into a physical fight. Chandler said that during the fight, the pistol in his waistband fell to the dock and the two men began to struggle over the gun. During the struggle, Chandler said, he fired the gun, hitting Finley and causing him to fall, the affidavit states. Chandler said he then left the neighborhood in the Audi and returned about an hour later.
Chandler said he carries the gun, a Glock 19, at night but doesn’t have a concealed weapons permit. Investigators seized the gun and, after concluding the evidence showed Chandler killed Finley “from a premediated design,” arrested him on charges of first-degree murder and carrying a concealed drug. He was being held in the Hillsborough County Jail on Tuesday with bail set at $502,000.
Chandler’s attorney, Joe Caimano Jr., said his client is a 2019 graduate of Wesley Chapel High School with a history of mental health issues that need more scrutiny.
“He’s able to describe his version of what happened, but it’s clouded by his mental health issues and other issues going on at the time, and there’s been no investigation into those issues,” Caimano said.
When Miriam Finley learned of the arrest and the charge, she didn’t think it could be true. She said her family and Chandler’s have always been on friendly terms, and her husband helped Kris Chandler with car repairs and whatever else he needed. She doesn’t believe Chandler is telling the truth about what happened. If his account is true, why would he shoot her husband in the back when he was already down? And why not call for help?
As Finley steels herself and her children for what is likely to be years of court proceedings, she is getting support that she called overwhelming. A GoFundMe campaign by Wednesday had raised more than $12,000 for the funeral and other expenses, and a few dozen people are delivering meals to the family.
Miriam Finley sees divine intervention in the outpouring of help. It’s God, she said, “going ahead and preparing the way for me, to be able to survive this.”
Returning home after learning of her husband’s death, Finley found his coaching jersey on the couple’s bed. Seeing the shirt he’d never wear again drove home the permanence of his absence. Along with her own children’s loss, Finley finds herself thinking about others who will miss out, too.
“All the kids,” she said through tears, “who won’t get to experience him in the future.”