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Freshman, 16, is charged in rape at Hillsborough library

The crime shocked quiet Bloomingdale, a Tampa suburb where residents walk nature trails at all hours: a high school student brutally beaten and raped while returning books to the public library on a school night.

Then the arrest left residents reeling: a freshman at Bloomingdale High School whose grandmother said he went to the library most days to study.

Kendrick Morris, 16, was arrested at his home at 4:15 a.m. Saturday after an intensive manhunt. He was charged with two counts of sexual battery with great bodily harm, aggravated battery and kidnapping with intent to commit a felony.

Morris, who lives in the working-class neighborhood of Clair Mel City, was previously arrested for animal cruelty, records show, and his mother got out of jail about an hour before the assault at the library Thursday night.

Morris was being held at the Juvenile Assessment Center but was expected to be moved to the Orient Road Jail when prosecutors charge him as an adult, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway. The unidentified 18-year-old victim was in critical but stable condition after she was beaten unconscious.

The crime and arrest were all parents could talk about Saturday as they gathered for their children's games at a ball field near the library.

"Everybody was talking about how relieved we were but how surprised we were to hear it was a ninth-grade student at Bloomingdale," said Heather O'Connell, a parent, local elementary school teacher and coordinator of the Bloomingdale Cove Crime Watch.

Officials declined to say what evidence linked Morris to the crime, citing only forensics and statements by witnesses gathered during the day-and-night investigation.

Sheriff's deputies went door to door canvassing for witnesses and searched a pond near the library for evidence, Callaway said.

"It was a heinous crime — an innocent victim coming to the library like that," Callaway said. "This guy showed a great propensity to harm someone. The victim came close to dying."

The victim was at Tampa General Hospital, where she was airlifted with several broken facial bones. She was returning books to the night drop box of the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library when she was attacked.

Morris is a freshman at Bloomingdale High School, immediately west of the library.

On Saturday, his family accused authorities of arresting the wrong person and picking up Morris just because he frequents the library.

"That's not Kenny, anybody will tell you that," said Lucina Stevens, Morris' grandmother, standing in the doorway of her Clair Mel home where Morris lives with her and his mother, about 10 miles west of the library and high school.

"He's always at the library. He goes there after school," Stevens said. "He was pointed out to detectives as one of the last people at the library."

She described her grandson as gentle, despite his big frame. He was a lineman on Bloomingdale's junior varsity football team.

"He didn't do it," she said. "He would not hurt no girl."

Many in his neighborhood of modest, cement-block homes said they saw him regularly walking a small white dog. He waved at neighbors and seemed friendly.

"No joke, I didn't think he'd hurt a fly," said Leonard Anderson. He and his wife, Angie, live across the street and started seeing Morris stay at his grandmother's house about five months ago.

Former Bloomingdale football coach Corey Brinson said he was shocked when he heard the news of Morris' arrest. Morris had the potential to play varsity football in the future, said Brinson, who resigned after last season.

Morris was reserved and quiet, and his grades "could have been better," Brinson said. Brinson lectured him a few times about improving in his studies and staying out of trouble in school, but no more than he did for some of the other guys on the team, he said.

A few times the coaches reprimanded Morris for missing practice, Brinson said.

"Come to find out he was at the library," Brinson said. Morris was catching up on homework, trying to raise his grades.

Morris was arrested three times between 2004 and 2005 on charges of cruelty to animals, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

His mother, Lisa Stevens, runs a catering business called Sweet Dreams Desserts, according to contact information provided by her mother as well as employment information on jail records.

Her arrest record includes charges of theft and fraudulent use of credit cards in the 1990s for which she was sentenced to community control. In February, she was sentenced to a year of probation for contributing to the delinquency of a child, reduced from an original charge of child abuse. The details of that case were unavailable.

On Monday, three nights before the attack at the Bloomingdale library, she was arrested by Tampa police on a charge of driving on a suspended license.

She was released from jail Thursday night at 9:43 p.m. — about one hour before the attack. Reached Saturday night, Stevens declined to comment.

At 10:40 p.m. Thursday, the victim drove to the library in a white Toyota RAV4 to return books to the night drop box. She was talking to a friend on her cell phone and parked about 3 feet from the boxes, deputies said. The victim, who celebrated her 18th birthday Tuesday, told her friend she saw a weird-looking man sitting on a bench near the depository. Then she screamed, deputies said, there was a bell-like sound and the phone went dead.

Her friend and family rushed to the library, arriving within 20 minutes. The friend called 911.

"Her car is just parked in front of the library and there's blood on the floor and her cell phone is on the floor," the friend, at times hysterical, told dispatchers. Deputies found the victim about 200 feet from the library, unconscious and badly injured.

Personal items were taken during the attack. Deputies searched the grounds and found the victim's purse, officials said.

Bloomingdale residents like O'Connell remained shaken Saturday.

"Everybody was saying we need to keep our garage doors closed and not let our kids out after dark," O'Connell said. "We tend to think there isn't a lot of crime here and that everything is safe and okay, but you never know."

Staff writer Rebecca Catalanello and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or

(813) 661-2441.

Freshman, 16, is charged in rape at Hillsborough library 04/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 9:03pm]

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