PORT RICHEY — Ann Parlato's two daughters live out of state, one in Pennsylvania, one in Hawaii, and they wanted their mother to move into an assisted living facility.
Parlato, 94, refused. She had lived in her white stucco home on Colrain Drive for 30 years. This is where she and her husband, John, planted the backyard evergreen trees that now tower over the tile roof. This is where they lived when John died in 1984 and this is where she missed him every day since. She had her garden and her friends from church and neighbors, who watched out for her every day.
"Go home," Dominique Leblanc, 58, would say when she saw Parlato taking walks at 10 p.m. "You don't need to be out at this hour."
"Oh, it's okay," Parlato would say. "I'm just going for a little walk. I'm not going far."
Parlato broke her hip a few years ago, crawling to her front door to be rescued by neighbors and recovered at a nursing home. She hated it and couldn't wait to get back home. The compromise between her daughters' worries and her own independence was a medical alert emergency system — a button for her to push in case she needed help — which was installed Friday, said her friend, Dori Cifelli, 52, of Trinity.
"She believed in God," Cifelli said, "and that God wasn't going to let anything happen to her."
When Cifelli came a little after noon Thursday to check on her friend, as she often did during the week, she found Parlato dead. She ran across the street to Leblanc's house.
"Ann's been murdered!" Cifelli shouted.
Col. Al Nienhuis of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office would not say how Parlato died or comment on possible suspects. He said the entire agency has taken the woman's death personally.
"When you have a 94-year-old woman murdered, it's horrific," Nienhuis told reporters outside Parlato's home in the Lakes of Regency Park.
He said detectives are working around the clock.
"We're not going to rest until we catch this person or persons," Nienhuis said.
Parlato's friends and neighbors are devastated. They don't understand how anyone could do this to a woman who was so kind-hearted. She often cooked food for people. If she knew someone liked something, she made it — chili con carne, macaroni and peas, fried eggplant, lentil soup. Neighbors could come home and find a jar of homemade pasta sauce on the steps.
Cifelli, who attended Covenant Christian Church in New Port Richey with Parlato, said the elderly woman lived on her Social Security checks and had little money, but she stockpiled things other people might need when she found them on sale: coloring books and crayons for the kids in the neighborhood, notebooks and pens for the back-to-school backpacks given away at her church. At the end of holiday season, she always bought a turkey on sale and kept it in her freezer to give to the needy the next Thanksgiving.
Cifelli said Parlato trusted people easily. She loved having visitors. Leblanc, who last saw Parlato about 4 p.m. Wednesday, said Parlato's next-door neighbor was woken by his dogs barking at 12:30 a.m. Thursday. He went outside to check it out, fearing some kids were trying to steal his boat, parked in the grass between his home and Parlato's. He saw a truck parked in front of her house. The lights were on, but that wasn't unusual as Parlato was a night owl who often stayed up till the wee hours reading. Leblanc said her neighbor saw a man in the kitchen window.
His hands were in the sink.
The neighbor "thought he was washing dishes," Leblanc said. It wasn't uncommon for Parlato to invite someone she knew and trusted inside. So the neighbor, thinking all was well, went back to bed.
On Thursday afternoon, with Parlato's house circled with crime scene tape, the neighbors huddled underneath a tree in Leblanc's yard.
This is a new world, and there are new rules for their already tight crime watch, they agreed. The next time they see anything suspicious, they're going to knock on doors, no matter the hour.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Ann Parlato, the 94-year-old woman slain in her Regency Park home, had a medical alert system but she was not a subscriber of a specific brand previously mentioned in this story.