BROOKSVILLE — Forensic Specialist Kenneth Locke pulled his van off the side of the dirt road and into the grass.
For about 30 minutes before he arrived Tuesday afternoon, a half-dozen Hernando County Sheriff's deputies had waited along the woods near Bluebird and Blackbird Avenues — less than a quarter mile from where Joey Hattenbrun was bludgeoned to death on Owl Road on Friday night.
One of the deputies held a machete. Others gripped long sticks, apparently used to help them search through the thicket.
Locke stepped out of his vehicle and squeezed on a pair of blue gloves. Up a small hill, Detective Cole Brinson waited for him.
"One of the jumbo bags?" Locke asked. "Or just a regular?"
"Better get the big one," Brinson said.
Locke soon after plucked from the brush a dark brown 2-by-4 that was a bit longer than a baseball bat. He tucked it in the tan bag. Minutes later, Locke loaded the slab of wood into his van.
All of the investigators then left the scene.
Sheriff's officials declined to say if the 2-by-4 was the suspected murder weapon.
"We are searching for anything of possible evidentiary value. We are engaged in an active and ongoing investigation," said Lt. Col. Royce Decker. "As this case remains open, and highly publicized, it would not be prudent to comment on what investigators are looking for, or have found. Any speculative comments could potentially jeopardize the case and our investigation."
Investigators have released little information about Hattenbrun's death. Friday night about 10:30, authorities say, the 30-year-old finished her shift as a CVS pharmacy technician; an hour later, her husband came home and found her bleeding on the driveway. Hattenbrun, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where she died.
Over much of the last four days, dozens of deputies have scoured the neighborhood searching for evidence and talking to nearby residents.
The homicide has left many people here stunned and afraid. Some now leave their lights on at night. Others refuse to let their kids outside alone anymore. One man considered buying a pistol.
Laurie Jones, who lives in the Hattenbruns' neighborhood, said she heard a woman scream sometime after 10 p.m. Friday. At the time, she didn't think anything of it because kids throughout the neighborhood often yell at night. Now, she's not sure what it was.
Over the last few years, Don Cook has watched the Hattenbruns build a beautiful two-story home next door to him. He's still in shock.
"I still don't understand how all this happened," Cook said. "It's crazy."
Friends say Hattenbrun loved her family, friends and, most of all, her little boy.
Much of her Facebook page is devoted to her son.
"It's the small things in life that mean the most, like watching your child sleep," she posted in July. "He looks like an angel."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]