ZEPHYRHILLS — Jennifer Parker worked the night shift at Walmart, arriving home each morning in time to drive her two sons to school. Amid her other mom duties of homework and dinner and bedtime, she also found time to take classes at Hillsborough Community College. She wanted to be a social worker.
But Parker, 35, struggled in relationships. She never married either of her son's fathers. She broke up with her boyfriend Anthony Floyd but they maintained an affable friendship. Lately, however, she complained he was taking advantage of her kindness.
One day in January, Parker was found murdered in her car on the side of the road.
Police pointed to Floyd as the killer.
Parker grew up in Zephyrhills, in a home on Cole Avenue. She graduated from Zephyrhills High School where she was a dancer and played saxophone in the band.
She had a brother and a sister but was also especially close to her cousins in Tampa. Every day, when they were driving to their jobs, Parker and her cousin Katherine Smith would gab on the phone.
"We'd talk about the kids, we'd talk about our mothers, how alike they are," said Smith, 36.
Smith was there when Parker's first son, Quintan, was born. Parker was there was Smith gave birth to her daughter.
Parker, her mother says, was her boys' best friend. She and Quintan, 14, and his brother Jeremiah, 7, lived with Parker's parents in Richland. They all had dinner together every night.
The family had also remained close to Floyd.
When Parker's grandmother died last year, Floyd was a pallbearer. When an aunt died, Floyd stepped up again. Parker's sons saw him as a father figure and friend. He still came to family functions, and when Parker and Smith would have a girls' night out, Floyd was their designated driver.
"He was never mean, he was never violent," Smith said. "They were friends."
There is nothing in court records to indicate a troubled relationship, and Floyd had never been arrested in Florida for any violent crimes.
Parker broke up with him more than a year ago, Smith said, because Floyd wouldn't get a job.
"You don't want a man not helping you," said Mary Parker, Jennifer's mother.
But even after they split, Parker had allowed Floyd, 31, to keep living at the family's old house on Cole Avenue. He had moved in there with Parker while they were a couple, her family said, but now he had the place to himself, rent-free.
Starting about a year ago, Parker told him he needed to leave — work, save up some money and find a place of his own. He always delayed, said he'd be homeless.
Back in the fall, she set a deadline: he had until Jan. 15 to get out.
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On Jan. 9, as Parker drove to work shortly before 10 p.m., she picked Floyd up along Wire Road. Her family thinks he was waiting for her, knowing the route she took to work.
Inside her car, they got into an argument.
Police reports say they fought about "the defendant using drugs and how it's been affecting his life."
But Parker's family said they never knew Floyd to use drugs. They say the argument must have been about Parker kicking him out of the house.
The argument became a physical struggle, and police say Floyd grabbed a box cutter and began stabbing Parker in the hands, wrists, face, neck and abdomen.
She bled to death inside her Toyota Corolla.
Authorities in Hillsborough County closed in on Floyd after they got a call that night from a woman who said she was his girlfriend. She had picked him up near where Parker died and driven him to her apartment in Tampa. When Floyd got out of the car, according to a Hillsborough search warrant, he had blood on his clothes. He showered and changed and put his things in a duffel bag and had her drive him to a spot on Fletcher Avenue, where he met up with his father. The warrant says Floyd's father drove him back to Zephyrhills, pleading with Floyd to turn himself in. He refused.
Meanwhile, as detectives searched the girlfriend's apartment, Floyd called her from a pay phone in Zephyrhills. Police there swooped in and arrested him.
The warrant says Floyd confessed that he hurt Parker but stopped short of saying he killed her.
He is awaiting trial now in the Pasco County jail, charged with second-degree murder.
• • •
Parker's sons are in counseling now. So are her parents.
People spilled out of the church into the yard at both her wake and funeral. Friends are still posting messages on her Facebook page as if she is reading them.
Smith says she misses having Parker to talk to. No one can imagine the next family get-together without her.
Eunice Smith, Parker's aunt who watched her as a baby, has been thumbing through a Bible Jennifer gave her two Christmases ago. It has a verse inscribed on the cover, one she didn't know she'd be relying on now:
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.