Three Polk County teenagers were charged with murder Friday in a bloody four-day rampage that left two people dead and seven others wounded _ victims apparently picked at random.
"I've been in law enforcement 37 years," said veteran Polk County Sheriff Lawrence Crow. "I thought I'd seen it all, until last night."
He was referring to the final incident, which occurred just before midnight Thursday when three men in ski masks burst into a room at John's Resort on U.S. 27 in Haines City. Five members of a Georgia family _ in town for a family reunion _ had just checked in.
Edward Moody, 60, of Hinesville, Ga., opened the door of his room and was "met by a hail of gunfire," Crow said. Deputies arrived to find five wounded, including a 10-year-old girl who was in stable condition Friday night.
"It was a random shooting," said Crow, who said no obvious motive had been found for any of the attacks. "It doesn't make any sense."
The shootings began Sunday night near Grenelefe, a resort near Haines City.
Stephen Tyler, 32, was a passenger in a car stopped at a stop sign. Three men in ski masks rushed up, opened the door and opened fire. Tyler died in surgery. The driver was not hurt.
About 10 p.m. Thursday, Cathy Lynn Boyd and her husband, Jeffrey, stopped at their driveway mailbox when they were approached by three men in ski masks who opened fire, hitting her in the arm and shoulder. The couple backed away and fled to Heart of Florida Hospital, where she was treated and released.
At 10:55 p.m., deputies were summoned to an intersection near Dundee. Christy Large, 30, and James E. Jackson, 28, had been shot when they stopped at a stop sign. A third person in the car, Lony Kennedy, 26, drove the others to a nearby Winn-Dixie, where he sought help. Large died.
The next call came within the hour, from the motel.
Moody's niece, Vickie Smith, 10, was shot in the head and chest. She was in stable condition late Friday at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Her sister, Morgan Smith, 15, and mother, Mary Smith, were recovering at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, as was Moody and his wife, Frances.
Witnesses to the motel shooting told deputies what was becoming a familiar story: Three men in ski masks raced away from the scene in a dark car, possibly a Monte Carlo.
An hour later, a deputy spotted such a car on U.S. 27 and pulled it over. One of the teens was in the car and was soon in custody.
Detectives said they found evidence in the car related to the crimes but would not share specifics or say what weapons were found. Crow said detectives are trying to determine who did the shooting at each scene.
Charged with two counts each of first-degree murder are Victor Lester, 17, and Curtis Shuler and Sylathum Antwan Streeter, both 16. All three live in the Haines City area.
The violent and random nature of the crimes is frightening as is the age of the suspects, but such events seem to be increasing, one criminologist noted.
"When you put guns in the hands of young kids who don't have the life experiences to see the consequences of violence, this is what happens," said Roger Dunham, professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami.
With violent movies and video games, "Violence seems to have no consequences, so they just do it. It's a kind of spree.
"You used to assume that criminals were more or less rational," Dunham said. "You give them the money and you won't get shot. Now they turn around and shoot you in the head for nothing."