Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Family of young woman found dead in Lealman hotel waits for answers

GULFPORT — The family of a young woman found dead in a hotel Monday said they are bewildered by the killing.

But they don't believe whoever is responsible was a stranger to 24-year-old Destynee Nekole Burkes.

"We have our own suspicions," said Rawn Godwin, 51, Burkes' stepfather. "We're dealing with it as it comes."

Godwin declined to elaborate, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the criminal investigation.

Burkes' body was discovered Monday afternoon in Lealman at the La Quinta motel, 4999 34th St. N.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office released few details about the killing. Investigators have not said how Burkes died or provided information on a suspect or motive.

"Homicide detectives are currently following up on several leads obtained from witness accounts and evidence collected at the crime scene," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Dave Disano said in a statement.

Burkes lived in Gulfport with her family. She grew up in the area, Godwin said, and attended Boca Ciega High School.

She was a debutante with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 2007 and secured a certified nursing license a few months later.

Her career choice fit with her personality, Godwin said. Growing up, Burkes was like a mother hen to her two younger sisters, Godwin said.

After high school and some college, she began doing home health care for elderly clients, often working 12-hour days. She also coached cheerleading for young girls.

"She was a very giving person," Godwin said. "She always liked taking care of people."

Godwin said he wasn't sure how his stepdaughter came to be at the hotel. He said he last saw her Sunday night, after she got off work. She then left the house to go out with friends, he said.

He assumed she went to work the next day, as usual.

"I was met yesterday by two detectives when I got home from work, at about 4 o'clock," Godwin said. "They asked a bunch of questions about Destynee, and whether she had any identifying marks on her body. They said they were from homicide."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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