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Anger fuels search for girl's killer

Micki Hobbs has a permanent reminder of when and how heartbreak came to her quiet life on the Weeki Wachee River.

The Hernando County woman played a message on her answering machine that began with a mechanical voice announcing the time, 1:38 Friday afternoon. Then came the wail of her daughter, Beverly Shultz:

"Oh, mother, they've got Kimberly. Somebody's got Kimberly . . . Oh, God, mother, I'll call you back."

It was Mrs. Hobbs' first indication that Kimberly Ann Waters, Mrs. Hobbs' 11-year-old granddaughter, was missing. She had to play the message back two or three times before she believed it.

Polk County sheriff's deputies would find the girl's body three hours later in a trash bin a few blocks from Kimberly's home outside Lakeland.

"It's not a human being that takes a life like this, it's an animal," said Micki Hobbs' husband and Kimberly's step-grandfather, Jay.

The Hobbses had been preparing for last weekend's Weeki Wachee Swamp Festival when they got the call from Kimberly's mother. Mrs. Hobbs' name tag for the festival is still on the living room table. The cases of soft drinks she and her husband were preparing to take to the event are still stacked by the front door.

They built the house in 1978 and moved to Hernando County permanently several years ago when Jay, 62, retired from his trucking job. He and his wife, 54, found the quiet community they were looking for.

They had helped raise Kimberly and her sister, Crystal, 13, when they lived near them in Polk County.

"(Kimberly) was my child, even when she was born," said Jay Hobbs.

When they moved to Hernando, they worried about leaving the children alone in a neighborhood they thought was going bad.

Because two former husbands had left her, Beverly Shultz had to work. It was when she returned from her job at a nursing home about 6 a.m. Friday that she discovered Kimberly was missing.

Crystal said she had last seen her sister about three hours earlier, sleeping on her mother's bed.

Authorities have released little information about Kimberly's death, and reported no new developments Tuesday.

Because the killer kidnapped Kimberly quietly, detectives believe it was someone who knew the family, the Hobbses said.

Mrs. Hobbs can talk about the details with apparent calm, and seems even to take consolation in recounting Kimberly's weeklong visit in September.

Kimberly learned to clog with a neighborhood group one night. She played cards and with dolls with Carolyn Royer, 9, who lives next door. The girls especially loved to swim and ride in a paddle boat on the canal just a few lots away from the Weeki Wachee River.

"She went 90 miles an hour the whole time," Jay Hobbs said.

"I had to encourage her to go back (home) to go to school. She felt her school could send her her homework, just for a little while," Mrs. Hobbs said.

Suddenly, she stopped talking.

"If you wonder why I'm able to keep so strong, I'm not a strong person," Mrs. Hobbs said. "I'm an angry person. It's anger that's getting me through this."

She is angry not only at the attacker, but at her daughter's two former husbands.

But it is not only anger that is sustaining her. For everyone who has let the family down, others have rallied.

Crystal and her mother are staying in Lakeland with the family of Robert Waters, the brother of Kimberly's father.

"He's been a rock," Mrs. Hobbs said.

The Weeki Wachee Crime Watch is taking up a collection for Beverly Shultz. "This little community is unbelievable," Mrs. Hobbs said.

Her brother, Tom Brimer, has driven from Orlando to comfort her, and squeezed her arm when she began to cry and gave her a long hug in the kitchen after an interview Tuesday afternoon.

And Carolyn Royer, Kimberly's summertime friend, drew two broken hearts in chalk on the road outside the Hobbses' house and wrote a message to tell Mrs. Hobbs she shared her pain.

"Dear Micki," it says. "I'm sorry about Kimberly. It's hard to cope with. May God be with you and watch you at all times."

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