LAND O'LAKES — Melissa Howard — sweet, driven, always busy — recently told her father and stepmother she had met a new guy.
"She said he was really nice," her stepmother, Linda Howard, said Friday. "Didn't tell us his name or anything."
On Thursday, the Sheriff's Office said, Melissa, 30, was found dead inside a locked bedroom in her home on Stillwood Drive in Lake Padgett Estates. Deputies said her boyfriend, David Jon McQuiston, shot her with a rifle before turning the gun on himself.
They are still investigating a motive for the killings.
No one answered the door Friday afternoon at McQuiston's home at 10059 Bedford Road in Spring Hill. There were few signs that anyone had been living there recently.
But there were signs of violence in his past.
Washington state court records show that McQuiston, 36, was charged in 1993 with homicide by abuse in the death of his 6-week-old daughter in Pierce County. The baby, named Britney, had suffered a blunt head trauma that caused a 4 1/2-inch-long skull fracture, news accounts from the case show.
McQuiston later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal mistreatment, spent 90 days in jail, 12 months on probation and paid a $365 fine.
Local records show two warrants for him out of Hillsborough County earlier this year on a charge of failure to redeliver leased personal property.
Howard's life, in contrast, bore many signs of success and promise.
She worked as a nurse practitioner at the Woman's Group medical practice in New Tampa. Officials there did not return calls seeking comment.
Her online profile says she studied nursing at the University of South Florida, earning master's degrees in nursing and nursing education.
She taught maternal nursing part-time at Hillsborough Community College, where she was a favorite among students.
"She was a wonderful role model for them. They just loved her," said Risë Sandrowitz, nursing program director at HCC. "She was full of energy. … She loved being a nurse. She loved what she did."
Linda Howard described her stepdaughter as strong-willed but quiet and somewhat secretive about her life.
"If she was having trouble she wouldn't have told anyone," Linda Howard said.
She was at a loss to imagine what went wrong with McQuiston.
"This just does not sound like Melissa to be messed up with something like this.
"She was such a wonderful girl," Linda Howard said. "She was beautiful."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Joel Anderson contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.