TAMPA — Housekeeper Ariel Taylor stood outside a Seffner motel and listened Saturday as deputies interviewed three siblings of a boy found dead.
A sister, the youngest, talked about baby dolls. A brother cried. Taylor wrapped a blanket around another brother, as the children sat on a curb.
"Does your dad hit you?" Taylor remembers an officer asking. They were talking about Jack Junior Montgomery, now accused of murdering 7-year-old Brice Russell. "He's not my dad," came the response.
Open hand or closed fist, the officer asked. Closed.
"How often does he hit you, every day, or sometimes, or once a week?" The response saddened Taylor, she said Wednesday. "The little boy said, 'He hits us every day. He made us beat up our brother.'"
Montgomery, 31, is accused of fatally beating his girlfriend's son late Friday or early Saturday at the Master's Inn on County Road 579 and ordering siblings to join in. A brother told investigators Montgomery picked the boy up by a leg and hurled him at a cabinet, a court record states. He then placed him in a bed, unconscious, with the other children.
He was known at the motel for the coarse way he talked to the kids, sometimes swearing at them or shouting racial slurs, according to Taylor. They were hidden in the second-floor room for weeks after the couple first arrived in November, and Montgomery would leave them alone when he went out for food or alcohol.
When housekeeping knocked, Taylor said, he would ask for tissue or towels but wouldn't invite anyone in.
He had no job, except to watch the kids while his girlfriend, Donya Shenita Russell, 28, worked overnight shifts. He earned a little money moving furniture for the motel owner, then went shopping for beer and cigars, Taylor said. She saw him high more than once.
On Friday night, before violence exploded in room 205, she passed Montgomery and another man on the steps and smelled marijuana, and then returned and smelled it again, she said.
"You cannot be out here smoking weed," she recalls saying.
"I'm sorry, my bad, my bad," she heard him say in response.
Near midnight, the Russell children awakened to thumping noises in their room and the sound of their brother Brice crying, one boy told investigators.
Montgomery would later say the boy sneaked out of bed for a cookie and was thrown back in, hitting a headboard.
But a guest in a nearby room told the front desk she overheard a man yelling "beat the kid" and "push the kid over here," a court record states. The guest thought she heard adults arguing over who would beat a child, Taylor said.
When a deputy knocked about 1 a.m. Saturday, alerted by a motel manager, Montgomery opened the door to a scene of apparently sleeping children. The deputy left without entering the room, the record said. It makes no mention of the mother being there.
Nearly 10 hours later, Montgomery used another guest's cell phone to call paramedics. He said his "stepson" wouldn't wake up and wasn't breathing. By then, Brice's body was cold.
Taylor said Montgomery was asking people for cigarettes.
"It's just a medical emergency," she recalled him explaining.
Montgomery told investigators he was the only adult with the children since 5:30 p.m. Friday, the court record said.
He had blood on his hands as he talked to the officers, Taylor said. She thought it was strange that he wasn't crying.
Crime scene technicians hauled off a shelving unit that had housed a microwave oven and refrigerator.
They cut away a piece of a blanket and took it with them.
The mother returned the next day, Sunday, to get her things.
Business returned to normal at the motel. The wall was cleaned of blood and the room rented out to someone else. But Taylor said there's a softball-sized stain on the carpet from the little boy whose life ended there.
Contact Patty Ryan at email@example.com or (813) 226-3382.