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Son charged in attacks on family

TAMPA — The son of a suburban couple whose home had a history of violence was jailed late Wednesday, accused of going on a bloody rampage that left his father dead and his mother and one sister badly wounded.

Deputies spotted James Kenneth McElroy's blue 1989 Jaguar at Camden Wood Apartments on Hillsborough Avenue and took the 21-year-old into custody without incident Wednesday night.

That quiet surrender ended a daylong search that began when deputies stepped into the family's Carrollwood home and found James McElroy, 50, stabbed to death and Karen L. McElroy, 54, and their 18-year-old daughter Michelle seriously injured. Both were in critical condition at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Only Michelle's twin sister escaped unhurt. At 4:16 a.m., she fled to a neighbor's house to call 911.

It was not the first time authorities had been called to the McElroy home. Two years ago, a verbal dispute between the father and son turned so violent that the younger McElroy had to be hospitalized.

His father was arrested on a domestic violence charge of aggravated battery, but the charge was later dropped. Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said the charges were dismissed after the boy's mother told authorities he attacked his father first and it was a case of self-defense.

One neighbor remembered a teenage James Kenneth McElroy sparring with his father, once coming to blows, another time running away from home altogether.

Another neighbor recalled hearing shouts from their home at night.

But they never thought their family squabbles would turn deadly.

• • •

Residents of this quiet, middle-class neighborhood awoke Wednesday to an unusual sight: the glare of police lights. Deputies first said they only wanted to talk to the younger McElroy, calling him the only resident of 11309 Hollyglen Drive still unaccounted for.

Within a few hours, though, they called him something else — a murder suspect.

As his mother and sister clung to life in the hospital, a warrant was issued for his arrest on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Deputies have not discussed a possible motive. Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, declined to discuss what, if anything, Michelle's twin sister, Melissa, conveyed to dispatchers when she went to summon help.

The family moved into the neighborhood just a few months ago, neighbors said, and generally kept to themselves.

Craig Balden, a 52-year-old schoolteacher who lives next door, said McElroy seemed like a pleasant enough young man, just like the rest of the family. "They seemed like nice people," he said.

Another neighbor, Bob Torres, 56, never got to meet them. On Tuesday night, Torres and his son had been walking their German shepherd, Jason, when they passed the McElroy family's small, olive-colored ranch house, its lawn in need of a mowing.

Just then, McElroy walked out from the garage and looked up and down the street, as if to see if anyone were watching. Then he saw Torres. Without saying a word, he glared at him, then turned back inside.

Torres thought it suspicious enough to tell his wife about. Then came Wednesday.

"Right away what hit me was last night, the guy looking up and down the street with no one around," he said.

• • •

Patricia Goller lived for years across the street from the McElroys when they were on Alvarado Drive near Tampa International Airport. Goller said the young McElroy particularly clashed with his father.

"They fought," she said. "He did not get along well with his father. They were wild, combative."

As he grew older, McElroy started leaving home more often, said Catina Schuberth, 35, who lived next door to the family. She saw it as an attempt to escape his father.

"It seemed like no matter what he did, he did wrong to the father," she said. "He was just like, 'Leave me alone,' … (and eventually) stayed away a lot."

Eventually, the boy moved out altogether. In June 2006, when he was arrested on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to sell, his address was listed as at large.

Last year, the family moved to Chadbourne Drive in the Plantation subdivision. Goller said the family planned to start afresh; the younger McElroy was living with them again.

"I thought when they moved, it would all get better," she said.

In their new home, the family was quiet, said Kharri Pose, who lived next door to them. But McElroy — who dressed in gothic style — struck her as weird.

"He looked kind of crazy," Pose said. "Like a little rock star gone bad."

McElroy's troubles with the law continued. He was arrested in May on charges of possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, felony fleeing to elude the authorities and obstructing law enforcement. A month later, he was charged with resisting police.

By then, the family had moved to Hollyglen Drive, another street in the same Plantation subdivision. This spring, Melissa and Michelle graduated from Jefferson High School.

On Saturday, deputies were called to the McElroy home about a disturbance. But nothing came of that visit, and deputies filed no report, Carter said.

Neighbors said the McElroys never caused a nuisance in their brief time in the neighborhood. Their only sign that something was amiss was when deputies began unfurling yellow police tape on Wednesday as two members of the family underwent surgery at St. Joseph's.

Watching deputies huddled outside the home, Torres grimaced. He said he wondered if he should have sensed something was seriously amiss when he ran into McElroy the night before.

"We looked right at him, he looked right at us," he said. "You wish something could have happened to save those people."

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Jared Leone and Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or tkaplan@sptimes.com.

Son charged in attacks on family 07/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 2:55pm]

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