It was just after daybreak when a police SWAT team headed to a Days Inn in Mobile, Ala.
Their man was in a room on the third floor.
He was a prime suspect in a car theft. But he also was wanted for questioning in the slaying of his mother at a Pinellas Park mobile home.
After posting a police bulletin, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies had tracked 24-year-old Corey Hicks to this hotel, then sought help from authorities in Mobile.
Arrest warrant in hand, and Pinellas sheriff's detectives watching, the Mobile SWAT team moved in. The team broke in the door and a man came at them, ax held high. The blade hit one of the officers in the arm.
The team opened fire.
Shortly after 9:15 a.m., Corey Hicks, 24, was dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Soon afterward deputies released information that he was the prime suspect in the murder of his 51-year-old mother, Debbie Neace.
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Bruce Hicks, 58, repeatedly had tried calling Neace during the weekend. Her boyfriend of 28 years, he moved out two weeks ago after several disputes with the couple's son, Corey.
Failing to reach her, he decided to drive to the blue mobile home they once shared.
When Hicks arrived Sunday, he found Neace dead.
After an autopsy Monday, detectives said Neace had suffered multiple "sharp force" injuries to her head and upper torso, consistent with wounds from an edged weapon.
Neace's car, a 2006 Toyota Corolla, was missing. Deputies suspected Corey Hicks stole it. On Sunday they weren't calling him a suspect, but they said they did want to talk to him.
After spending the night interviewing friends and family members, detectives discovered that the last time anyone saw Neace alive was 6 p.m. Friday.
Once they connected the dots with the fights and the stolen car, detectives believed Corey Hicks was their suspect. They obtained an arrest warrant for grand theft auto, and once his car was found they asked Mobile police to help.
Police would not reveal how many times Hicks was shot. The officer who was struck in the arm by the ax suffered a broken bone. He also was hit in the same arm by a stray bullet during the SWAT team rush.
The officer was treated at a nearby hospital and released.
"This tells us that this is a very dangerous job," Mobile police Chief Micheal T. Williams said at a news conference after the shooting. "Every day these police officers go out and put their lives on the line to protect the citizens of this city."
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On Monday afternoon, friends arrived at Neace's Pinellas Park home.
Rene Jalbert and Catherine Self brought a bouquet of white, orange and yellow flowers.
They had both worked with Neace at Valpak in Largo, designing coupons. "This is a devastating loss of a good person," Jalbert said. "She was kind, generous and always smiling."
Jalbert said she had worked with Neace for 13 years and that she had never mentioned any problems at home. She said their work sometimes was stressful.
"It takes a special kind of woman to do that job with a smile," Jalbert said.
Self said every morning when she arrived, Neace was already there, smiling. She had worked with Neace for eight years, the last four side by side.
"How a quiet person can be missed this much," Self mused, staring at the flowers.
Andy Boyle can be reached at (727) 893-8087 or [email protected]
Correction: This story was revised to reflect the following correction: Micheal T. Williams is police chief of Mobile, Ala. His first name was misspelled Tuesday.