BROOKSVILLE — In the tight-knit south Brooksville neighborhood where few people are strangers, speculation is making its way along the streets.
The killer was an outsider. Or a close friend. Maybe a distant relative. No one knows.
But this much is certain: Whoever is responsible for Sarah Davis' death is still on the loose, and people are afraid.
"This has put a lot of fear in their hearts," said Christine Yant, a longtime friend of Davis. "It's a scary thought, a scary feeling. And that won't go away until someone is actually caught."
Hernando sheriff's deputies were searching for clues Monday that could lead them to whoever killed the 80-year-old teacher and community leader.
Davis was found slain in her home on St. Francis Street early Saturday morning by deputies called to the house by family members who got no response when they tried to reach her. She lived alone.
A message left with her son, Mack Davis III in Tampa, wasn't immediately returned Monday.
Friends and neighbors were still coming to grips with the violent death of a woman who was an icon of south Brooksville and taught most of its residents over the course of a 30-year education career at Moton School — which was, at one point, the only African-American school in Hernando County.
Davis graduated from Moton in 1946 and returned to teach third grade in 1954.
"I don't know that she had reason to feel unsafe," said Hazel Land, a friend. "When I first heard about it, I thought maybe she had passed away in her sleep. But murder? In this town? And a woman like that? That's the worst thing about it."
Davis retired from the Hernando school district in the mid 1980s but stayed active in the community. She volunteered at her church, Bethlehem Progressive Baptist; headed up the neighborhood's Crime Watch; and worked at one of the nearby sheriff's substations for 14 years.
Friends say Davis had slowed down in the past year after the death of her husband, Mack Davis II, and the loss of her job last summer when the Sheriff's Office shuttered the substations during budget cuts.
"I had seen her just a month ago and she said she was going to start coming back to the meetings," said Yant, referring to the local Black Educators Caucus. "She had been involved for quite some time. She was sort of like the historian for the group."
But Davis remained fastidious about taking care of the house — inside and out. Particularly her yard, where neighbors would regularly see her fussing over hedges and flower beds and even the gravel walking path.
That attitude carried over into her efforts to improve her neighborhood, which has struggled with poverty and crime over the years. However, no one had envisioned Davis needing to fear for her safety.
"This wasn't something you expected to happen here," Yant said.
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report.