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Families grieve over deaths of two Seffner men

SEFFNER — She sees his face everywhere. On the news. In the photos lining her parents' coffee table. When she closes her eyes. Karen Deas can't get her dead son's image out of her mind.

"I can't sleep," she said. "I can't process anything."

Sunday afternoon, Deas opened the door to her son's mobile home and stepped inside. There, on the living room floor, she found the beaten body of her son's roommate. Her dead son lay just out of sight.

Her world stopped. Screaming, she ran out the door.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is investigating what it says appears to be a double homicide. It has not released much information on the deaths of the two young men, including when and just how they died.

The dread started building in Deas when she sent a text message to her son Joshua Austin Deas, 24, about 10:45 a.m. Sunday and he didn't respond.

Her son always responded — if not right away, within an hour or so. After hours of unreturned calls and texts, she drove to his work. Josh never showed, they said.

Her anxiety deepened.

Following his bike route back to his home, she scanned the road for signs of a crash. Nothing.

At the mobile home park, she convinced the property manager to let her use his key. Her fears became reality when she saw her son's roommate, Kenneth Simmons, 34, dead on the floor.

"Everybody can't believe this happened to them," Deas said Monday. "They would give you the shirts off their backs and the last dollar in their pockets. It makes no sense for them to die this brutally."

The Sheriff's Office said the men died of severe blunt trauma. Simmons' family finds that surprising. Simmons had been a high school football player who practiced jujitsu and was capable of defending himself.

"For this to happen to him," his aunt Tina Cole said, "it's almost unreal."

Simmons and Joshua Deas met a couple years ago working at a Walmart in Valrico. Simmons later transferred to a Walmart in Seffner, but the two moved in together about six months ago, Karen Deas said.

Her son spent most of his free time playing basketball and video games. He was a hard worker who never caused trouble and was well-liked by friends and coworkers. Neither of the men had a Florida criminal record.

"When I'd go grocery shopping with him, his coworkers would stop and hug him and then tell me what a good son I had," Deas said.

She spent every Sunday evening with her son. She'd pick him up from work after he did his grocery shopping and then they'd do his laundry at a nearby laundromat before grabbing dinner.

He wasn't much for talking on the phone, but he'd text her almost every day. Sitting in her parents' living room, Deas scrolled through the last conversations she had with her son.

"I have many pictures and many texts from him," she said. "They'll stay on my phone forever."

The Sheriff's Office hasn't released any of the victims' personal items or allowed the families to return to the home. So Deas holds on to what she can. She finds herself checking his Facebook page repeatedly for updates, a habit that simultaneously comforts and harms.

"It's painful but it's nice to know there's so many people out there who knew what a good person he was," she said.

After discovering her dead son and his roommate, Deas couldn't bring herself to leave until authorities removed the bodies. She called her parents from the scene, her call a mix of screams and sobs. They met her there, along with members of Simmons' family.

"We couldn't leave," said Deas' mother, Helen LeDoux. "It would've been like we were just leaving him there."

The family kept their vigil until about 2 a.m. Sleep refused to come easily. By 8 a.m., the phones started ringing and wouldn't stop. Family, reporters, friends. Some people Deas was close with, others with whom she hasn't spoken to in years.

"For me, it's a distraction," she said as her iPhone beeped with incoming text messages.

Deas and her daughter are staying with her parents at their house in Sun City Center. When the television news came on at noon, Deas' father, Al LeDoux, turned up the volume. The room grew silent as they listened to a reporter tell them about Joshua's death and their own grief.

Deas cried when a picture of her son filled the screen. Her daughter wrapped her arms around her, pulling her close and cradling her head.

Thirty miles north in Plant City, another family mourned. Simmons' uncle sifted through family albums, searching for recent photographs of the man he considered a son.

"I'm doing okay," Warren Cole said. "Until I actually get to see him. It just hasn't hit me."

"You hear it all the time," Simmons' aunt Tina said. She began to sob.

"But you never know it's going to happen to you," her husband continued.

For Deas, the images won't go away. She would see her son again when the medical examiner showed her photos to confirm his identity.

"They told me to send a family member, but I couldn't do that," she said. "In my mind, I had to know for sure. I had to see him."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson and staff writer Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3111.

Families grieve over deaths of two Seffner men 03/25/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:57pm]
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