PORT RICHEY — Three masked men broke into the home of an 89-year-old woman early Wednesday morning, beat her in her bed and sexually assaulted her. Before they left, they ransacked the house in the Palm Terrace Gardens subdivision.
The woman went to a neighbor's home for help and was taken to a hospital.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office got a call from the hospital at 6 a.m.
Authorities say the woman was released later that day and is recovering. Her name and address are withheld because of the nature of the crime.
She couldn't give detectives a good description of the men because they covered their faces. Detectives think there might be a link between this crime and another that happened to the woman.
On April 2, her house was broken into and her red Pontiac Sunfire was stolen. It was later recovered.
Wednesday afternoon, few people on the streets in Palm Terrace Gardens — just north of Ranch Road and east of Zimmerman Road — knew what had happened that morning.
"You have to be pretty low to do something like that," said Beverly Mills, a petite 17-year-old with glasses and cornrows. She and four other teens stood at the edge of a parking lot on Areca Drive, across from the Palm Terrace Civic Association building. The doors were locked. The phone is disconnected.
"We hear sirens all the time," Beverly said.
Suddenly, a black Pontiac swerved over to them, missing them by inches.
"Who is that?" said Shakira Merritt, 16.
The driver screeched to a halt, leaned out and screamed an expletive.
"What?" Shakira said.
He sped off.
"Who was that?" Shakira asked.
They didn't know. The group paused for a moment and then continued their conversation.
It wasn't yet 5 p.m., but the streets were full. Toddlers in diapers on Big Wheels cycled out on the street in front of cars. Dogs and cats roamed loose, as did ducks from a nearby lake. Kids and adults walked in the road, playing basketball. A woman in an electric wheelchair rode slowly down a street smoking a cigarette, with a toddler in her lap.
At a corner lot home, a 75-year-old woman worked in her yard. She does not want to be named because she fears her neighbors.
"Oh, mercy me," she said, when asked how the area has changed in the 26 years she's lived there. She walked to her front lawn, in her robin's egg blue work gloves, her faded pink sweatshirt with tissues shoved in one cuff, her hair kept back in a kerchief.
"The lawns were beautiful," she said. "And look at it now."
Her second husband wanted to move here, so they did. He died 13 years ago. Now she lives alone with her cockatiel, who is 15.
She says she's had bottles thrown at the house. People steal things, such as her water hose, plants, a frog statue, even her metal address sign with two doves of peace.
She has more than a dozen security lights on the house and driveway. Before she goes to sleep, she checks outside every window and opens the door to look in the courtyard. As soon as the economy gets better, she's selling her house and moving.
"I'm afraid," she said.
But when told of the attack on the 89-year-old woman earlier that day, her expression didn't change. She was not shocked. She talked of 11 and 12 year-old kids who wander the streets at 1 a.m.
"Where are their parents?" she asked.
A few minutes later and a few streets over, a black SUV weaved the breadth of Foxbloom Drive, curb to curb, tires squealing. People got out of its way and watched it as it tore down the street and turned left in a cloud of smoke.
And then everyone went back to what they were doing, continuing their chats and walks and yard work, dogs barking, life as usual.
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.