Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Public safety

Before fatal shooting near Spring Hill, men confronted by naked woman carrying a cross

Robert Collins saw the naked woman first.

On Saturday afternoon, he and his friend Al Eylward drove to a property near Spring Hill that Eylward was considering buying. As they rode along Suncoast Boulevard in Eylward's truck about 12:30 p.m., Collins saw a woman walking on the dirt road.

"There's a naked woman coming," said Collins, 50, of Hudson.

"No, she's got a bathing suit on," replied Eylward, 61, of Hudson.

He was wrong.

"She was just strolling down the road, like she didn't have a care in the world," Eylward said.

Collins rolled his window down as the truck pulled alongside her.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm okay," she said. "I'm just a little lost."

She kept walking.

Less than an hour later, two off-duty law enforcement officers at a party at a house less than a mile away fatally shot a woman authorities described as "armed, naked and irrational" who had confronted them. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office identified her as Inga Marie Swanson, 42.

Swanson had no criminal record in Florida, according to records. Her most recent address was 9003 Orchard Way in Spring Hill, according to her voter registration, not far from where she died.

David Mull, 55, of Spring Hill said he and Swanson were sweethearts for years and kept in touch after they broke up in 2002. Swanson came from Connecticut, lived in Hillsborough County as a teenager and attended Gaither High School.

She was always taking courses at community colleges, but couldn't say for sure what kind of career she envisioned, Mull said.

Around Land O'Lakes, she was known not as Inga but as Marie, a waitress at the former Laker Cafe, until about four or five years ago when it closed.

Mull described Swanson as bubbly, easy to talk to and deeply religious, especially in later years.

"She was always going to church with her Bible," he said.

Before Swanson met a tragic end Saturday afternoon, she crossed paths with Collins and Eylward again, the men said. Their second encounter with her was even stranger than the first.

• • •

Authorities haven't released many details about the shooting.

Tampa police Officer William Mechler, 26, and Hernando County sheriff's Detective Rocky Howard, 31, were involved, authorities said, but it remained unclear if one or both shot Swanson.

The incident took place about 1:20 p.m. during a gathering at 9070 Orchard Way. A sheriff's spokeswoman said the property is owned by Howard's mother-in-law and father-in-law, and records show he lives next door.

Authorities say that the woman showed up there uninvited with a weapon. They would not identify the weapon.

The Sheriff's Office didn't disclose details of the party and wouldn't say Sunday whether it involved alcohol. The spokeswoman said she did not know whether the shots were fired by service weapons or the men's personal guns, but that officers are urged to be armed at all times.

Howard and Mechler have been placed on administrative leave from their agencies while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates.

• • •

About 10 minutes after they first saw Swanson, Eylward and Collins were walking the land at 8464 Orchard Way, a few acres and a mobile home Eylward might buy.

Still naked, Swanson walked through the woods across the street, the men said. She appeared to be headed toward a house.

About 20 minutes later, the men were inside the mobile home. The door opened. It was Swanson.

She was still naked, but now she was holding something, the men said — a large, silver cross.

Swanson waved the cross in a circle over her head several times, they said. There is some disagreement as to what she said.

According to Eylward, she said, "Antichrist, Antichrist, Antichrist. This meeting is over."

Collins heard, "This is the Antichrist. Let's wrap it up."

Then she turned and walked out the door, the men said.

Collins told Eylward to get a picture of her with his cellphone. "Otherwise, no one will believe us," Collins said. Eylward obliged, snapping a shot as she disappeared into the woods across the street.

Both said they never felt threatened by Swanson. Collins is a former law officer with a concealed weapons permit. He says he didn't reach for his .380-caliber pistol.

Eylward thought Swanson was on drugs. Collins thought there was a nudist colony nearby.

The men didn't hear about the shooting until hours later. Eylward returned to the property about 5 p.m. with another friend to find the street cordoned off.

Sunday night, Eylward felt plagued by guilt that he hadn't called police when he first saw Swanson. In retrospect, he said, he thinks he could have saved her life.

Researcher John Martin and staff writer Rich Shopes contributed to this report.

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