MASARYKTOWN — When Bobby Colon first heard the news Wednesday, he could only think of a photograph.
Three friends, nearly 20 years ago, celebrating. The boys, all about 9 years old, had just won a soccer tournament with the Hernando Heat club team. They wore broad, goofy smiles and held their trophies up for the camera.
That's how Colon remembers his longtime friend, Michael John Pfeifer, who Hernando County sheriff's investigators say was murdered in a home invasion about 11:40 p.m. Tuesday.
Detectives, who are searching for three suspects, say they believe the robbery at 174 Grand Ave. was not a random act and that the target was drugs and money. During the attack, investigators say, Pfeifer was shot as he struggled with at least one of the suspects.
Pfeifer, 27, had an extensive history of drug arrests. Although the two men hadn't spoken in about six months, Colon believed his friend had made progress in the last couple of years and was trying to become a better father to his young son.
"He made some bad choices in his life. It didn't change the fact that deep down he was a good person," Colon said. "He really seemed like he was trying to turn his life around."
Pfeifer's father, George Pfeifer, told the Times that investigators came to his Spring Hill home about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday with news that his son had died.
Like Colon, Mr. Pfeifer believed his son — the youngest of five children — had recently worked toward a better life.
"I'm a very, very upset father," he said. "I'm still in shock."
Pfeifer sometimes smoked marijuana, his father said, but not to the extent he used to — at least in part because he couldn't afford it.
Mr. Pfeifer and his wife, Deborah, were helping their son buy the house in Masaryktown. He visited the home just a week ago and said he didn't believe his son owned anything worth stealing, including drugs.
"You're not going to kill somebody over a watch or a chain," George Pfeifer said, adding that he didn't know anyone who would want to harm his son.
Pfeifer, Colon said, was never a violent person. In high school, he avoided fights.
"I never saw him without a smile on his face," Colon said. "I never saw him in a bad mood."
As of Wednesday evening, detectives were still searching for three people they believed may have been involved in the killing. The suspects include two young black men and a third man whose race a witness couldn't identify.
One suspect was described as thin and about 6 feet tall. He wore a black tank-top-style T-shirt, shiny gray basketball shorts and a dark blue ski mask with white trim around the eye and mouth cutouts. The second suspect was described as approximately 5-foot-10, wearing dark clothing that included a black tank-top-style T-shirt and black suede Puma athletic shoes with a white emblem. A witness heard the third suspect, but deputies say he didn't see the person.
A man staying with Pfeifer for the last two weeks, Cliff N. Kearney, was injured during the attack. Authorities say the 29-year-old was treated by emergency personnel at the scene.
Catherine Power, who lives about a block from Pfeifer's home, said she noticed a car parked about 50 yards from the eventual crime scene just 40 minutes before the incident. When the car's driver noticed her, she said, it quickly left the area.
About 1 a.m., Power and other neighbors said, they were awakened by barking dogs and flashing police lights.
Neighbors said they often have seen luxury vehicles in the driveway at Pfeifer's house. At night, they noted, cars frequently would come and go from the home.
Pfeifer's first drug-related charges date back to 2003. In total, court records show, he had been arrested eight times, most recently in late 2009 for violation of probation. His charges have included possession of cocaine, introduction of cocaine into a county detention facility, sale of cocaine, possession of Alprazolam, cultivation of cannabis and a DUI.
Still, his father said Pfeifer shouldn't be remembered as a bad person.
About a year ago, George Pfeifer said, his son sold his Cadillac Escalade to help pay bills, and recently Pfeifer and his roommate began working part-time maintenance jobs to save money.
"He was a great son. He was a sweetheart," Mr. Pfeifer said. "It's just a shame."
News researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or email@example.com.