PLANT CITY — The phone rings, and she can't ignore it.
For a month, 53-year-old Patricia Haynes has been piecing together her son's death through small-town talk. Friends, family, even strangers have called to tell her where they think 33-year-old Shannon Thomas went that fatal morning. They tell her who he was with, and who last saw him alive.
Then there are the rumors she wishes she didn't have to hear, speculation about a gunman.
I saw him, the voices hiss. I heard he was bragging about it.
Her son's death still haunts the small Plant City neighborhood. And Haynes says fingers in the close-knit community all seem to point at two men, maybe three.
But police haven't named any suspects yet. They haven't made any arrests in connection with the Nov. 12 double homicide of Thomas and 59-year-old Faye Kitchen.
"Everybody's afraid," Haynes said. "We got murderers walking around."
The evening of Nov. 12, Plant City police broke into a house at 506 E Ohio St. on a welfare check. Inside, they found two bodies, badly beaten.
They identified the victims, Thomas and Kitchen, by their fingerprints.
Whatever may have led to the attack inside the house remains a tale carried for now by speculation, until investigators divulge more details.
So Haynes, who lives in Lakeland, holds onto the second-hand allegations she hears, repeating them even as she pronounces them hearsay.
She thinks her son, a "small-town drug dealer" with several previous arrests, got into a heated argument the night before with someone who owed him money. She knows her son often carried a gun.
A shoe peddler last saw Thomas, she was told, catching a ride with the debtor to Kitchen's house.
The police named a person of interest — Ruben Brooks Jr. — but have not called him a suspect. Brooks, 47, was recently released from prison for charges including battery on a law officer.
Two days after the bodies were discovered and shortly after investigators located a barrel with bloody clothes, Brooks was shot in what police called a retaliatory act. Released from the hospital, he's back on the streets.
Meanwhile, Haynes waits, wonders and listens.
"Plant City is a small town," Haynes said. "If you do something to one of us, we're going to figure out who done it."
Police won't disclose the progress of the investigation, handled by the department's five-person major crimes unit. They were waiting this week for forensic results from a state laboratory on the bloody clothes in the barrel, but Plant City police spokesman Tray Towles couldn't estimate when the evidence would be processed.
"The people down there want to see justice done," he said. "They want to see the case solved. You can't do a hurried investigation because of that. … You can't bow to that pressure."
The rumor mill, he said, may be whirling quickly, but much of the information isn't reaching the investigators.
Every tip, even anonymous ones, add up in an investigation, he said.
Even in her pursuit of justice, Haynes can't blame her friends or neighbors for not calling police with tips.
"People are scared," she said. There's no telling what will make it back to the ears of a killer.
Towles did not know if additional patrols have been sent into the neighborhood after the homicides but said the slayings did not appear to be random attacks. He encouraged residents to remain aware and watchful.
"I'm not going to put out there that you should be afraid of Ruben Brooks," he said, "because that's just not the reality of it."
Outside of family and friends, neighborhood residents such as Tangela Milton, 49, say they feel safe but have questions.
"I wonder why they haven't caught them," she said. "I just hope they catch them."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.