A body that was found wrapped in a garbage bag and floating in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday has been identified as a 34-year-old Pinellas County woman, the FBI’s Tampa office reported Friday.
The bureau released a statement saying the body was that of Heather Rose Strickland, a woman who has been living in the Clearwater-St. Petersburg area for the last five years. The statement said Strickland previously lived in North Florida.
“She didn’t deserve this, whatever happens no person deserves this,” Strickland’s stepmother, Sherrie Strickland, said in a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Friday afternoon.
Heather Strickland was discovered about 13 miles off the coast of Pinellas County on Saturday shortly before noon, the FBI statement said. Investigators said her body was found wrapped in bedding that was in a trash bag. Investigators are waiting on a toxicology report to determine her cause of death.
Heather Strickland was last seen leaving HCA Largo Hospital, 201 14th Street SW in Largo, on Dec. 5, agents said.
Sherrie Strickland, and Heather’s father, John Strickland, said Heather Strickland battled mental illness for much of her life. As she got older, she became addicted to drugs and her mental illness worsened, John and Sherrie Strickland said. The two said Heather Strickland spent time in and out of mental hospitals, and they had sought additional help for their daughter.
“One day she would act like she was 6 years old, and the next day she was on top of her game,” John Strickland said.
Sherrie and John Strickland said they had a good relationship with Heather. They spoke with her every few weeks on the phone and saw her about once a year.
Sherrie Strickland spoke with Heather a few weeks ago while she was in a mental hospital in Key Largo. Sherrie Strickland begged her to come home to the Lake City area, where she and John Strickland live. Heather Strickland said she didn’t want to, and that she loved where she was living.
“She was a beautiful girl ... beautiful long red hair, pretty green eyes,” Sherrie Strickland said.
When she was young, Heather wanted to grow up to be a model, Sherrie Strickland said.
Sherrie Strickland was a manager at a Goodwill, when Heather Strickland was young, and she recalled a time when Heather Strickland dressed up in 1960s clothes with her hair up and in braids. It’s a memory the family cherishes of them all together, happy.
“She had this laugh that you can never forget,” Sherrie Strickland said. “And I haven’t heard that in years.”
Heather had five children, all of whom have been adopted. She loved them all, her parents said. And Sherrie and John Strickland continue to stay in contact with them.
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Heather had her problems, John Strickland said, but she was a good person. In the aftermath of hearing what happened to their daughter, the pair said they’re making it through by staying busy. The two are planning Heather Strickland’s funeral.
Heather Strickland’s parents are hoping someone comes forward with more information about what happened to their daughter.
The FBI is seeking the public’s help in piecing together the events that led to Strickland’s death. The Bureau asks anyone with information to call the Tampa office at (813) 253-1000 or submit a tip to tips.fbi.gov.
“I think the hardest thing is the way she was thrown out,” Sherrie said. “She was a person.”