One woman was shot dead in a Cocoa apartment and her mother was airlifted with multiple gunshot wounds just after noon today. Cocoa Police and BCSO deputies, using K-9 units and the sheriff's helicopter searched the area behind the Longwood Apartments for the suspect. (Photo: Malcolm Denemark, FLORIDA TODAY)
COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- Just hours before a Cocoa family planned to celebrate one member's 7th birthday today, an unknown man ran into their apartment and gunned down two adult women, killing one and gravely wounding the other, police said.
The second woman, described as in her late 50s or early 60s, was shot several times, including at least once in the head, and was airlifted to Holmes Regional Medical Center in critical condition, Cocoa police spokeswoman Officer Barbara Matthews said.
Police were called to 1524 Clearlake Road at the report of gunfire just after noon today. The two women who were shot have not been publicly identified. Matthews said it was a woman and her daughter, who is in her late 20s or early 30s.
"We don't know yet if it's a random crime, or if he targeted these people," she said of the suspect, calling the man a murderer. Witnesses reported seeing the suspect fleeing along a fence on the south side of the apartment complex, and police think the suspect's gun may have gone off as he jumped the fence. Matthews said a bullet went through a side window of a red car parked nearby.
Police found a gun outside a unit on the other side of the fence.
"At this point, we don't know if it's connected to the crime scene," Matthews said.
Matthew said the younger victim's three daughters, the oldest of which turned 7 today, were home at the time of the shooting and were taken into temporary custody by Department of Children and Families workers. The agency will determine where the children will stay as well as provide care after the traumatic event.
"The kids ran out of the home to a neighbor's house to call for help," Matthews said.
Investigators were combing the scene of the deadly crime as a Brevard County sheriff's helicopter and Cocoa and Rockledge police searched the area for a suspect. No suspect had been caught as of this afternoon, according to police.
Scores of neighbors and friends flooded the tan-colored, single-story apartment complex that was partially cordoned off by crime scene tape. Police conducted interviews to determine who were biological relatives and who were witnesses. The complex is across Clearlake Road from Brevard Community College, which appeared empty on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The young girls, the smallest of which was carried from the apartment, wore their hair tied up with brightly colored beads and hair bands. One wore a Justin Bieber T-shirt with the musician's picture. Mary Neely said two of the girls were her grandchildren and that their mother, the younger of the two victims, worked several days a week providing private home health care.
"She was just raised around me," Neely said. "She just was the sweetest person, loved her kids, loved their daddy."
Neely said she could rely on the woman to help out when needed, adding that the victim would clean her house or watch her children if she needed to go to the grocery store. She broke down as she talked about the victims.
"I'm just going to miss her so much, she left her three kids behind. ... whoever did this needs to come forward," she said.
Police say tips from the public could be crucial to catching the suspect. Anyone with information is asked to call Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS. Callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward.
Among those gathered was Randy McGhee, pastor of Greater Love Outreach ministries in Cocoa, who said he knew the victims as regular churchgoers. He went to the hospital this afternoon to check on the older of the two women, first issuing a plea for peace from those who had gathered.
"It's an act of violence," he said. "It's a crime. It's senseless."
Tammy Woods, of Merritt Island, said her nephew dated the slain woman and was the father of two of the children. A man, sobbing into his white T-shirt, left the crime scene with DCF workers and the children.
Woods said the woman, whose death was the fifth homicide reported this year in Brevard County, was always very friendly and good with Woods' children.
"It's just tragic," she said. "She was a family member. ... Her mom was a people person."
Stacey Barchenger, FLORIDA TODAY