TAMPA — A woman shot to death for leaving her boyfriend was a mother, grandmother and beloved teacher’s aide who worked a second job helping adults with special needs, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
Renee Elizabeth Williams, 55, was shot about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of a Brandon apartment complex where she was working, Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
Detectives tracked down the suspect, 49-year-old Richard Miller, and arrested him at his Tampa home about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Miller has served time in prison for crimes that include aggravated battery and has been named in at least five petitions for protection in Hillsborough County filed by four women, county records show.
“This is an extremely violent individual,” Chronister said at a news conference. “Unfortunately, he didn’t like the fact that she was breaking off the relationship.”
The sheriff urged victims and potential victims of domestic violence to notify authorities and seek protection.
“There is help available,” he said. “It’s as simple as picking up a phone and dialing 211, the Crisis Center.”
Williams spent her career helping special needs children and was working at Foster Elementary School, 2014 East Diana St. in Tampa, according to the Hillsborough County School District. She was hired by the district in 2002 and had worked earlier at Lavoy Exceptional Center and at Coleman Middle School.
Crisis team members were at Foster Elementary on Thursday.
Principal Francine Lazarus called Williams a mother figure who “just looked out for so many people and never took any credit for herself.”
"Whenever there was food on campus for a special event or teacher appreciation, she would pretend to make a plate for herself, but then bring it to the custodians and never eat anything herself."
Williams was shot as she was leaving a work shift about 8 p.m. at Westchester Apartments, off State Road 60 near Kingsway Road, according to an arrest affidavit. A witness saw a man later identified as Miller talking with Williams at her car and later heard what he thought was the sound of fireworks.
Williams was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital, where she died.
A woman called 911 at about 10:30 p.m., two hours after the shooting, to say that Miller had just told her he killed his girlfriend, the affidavit says. The woman told detectives that Miller had considered harming himself earlier in the day. She said he admitted shooting Williams four times and checking whether she was dead.
When she asked why he killed Williams, Miller “replied that she was playing with his feelings," the affidavit says.
Because of Miller’s violent past, the Sheriff’s Office sent its SWAT team and crisis negotiators to help in his arrest. They converged on a home at 1602 E Marks Dr. in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood. After a brief negotiation, two people exited the house followed by Miller, Chronister said. Miller was compliant as he was taken into custody.
A .45-caliber handgun used in the fatal shooting was recovered from the home, Chronister said.
Miller has an arrest history in Florida dating to the late 1980s. Between 1990 and 2016, records show, he served several several stints in prison for aggravated assault with a weapon, false imprisonment, escaping from custody, uttering forged bills and using or possessing a counterfeit payment instrument.
Miller married in Polk County in 2011 and the couple divorced in Hillsborough in May.
Williams was friends with Thaddeus Bullard of Lutz, who wrestles professionally as Titus O’Neill. Bullard spoke after Chronister at the news conference Thursday, saying the Williams family “has gone through a lot in the past couple of months” and repeating the sheriff’s plea for domestic violence victims to reach out for help.
Bullard, whose mother was 12 when she became pregnant with him during an assault, called himself the product of domestic violence.
“I can’t snap my fingers and heal every problem,” he said, but he praised local authorities for their work in dealing with the issue.
To get help
To get free, confidential crisis counseling and referrals to services that can help, call the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1-800-500-1119 statewide, or in Hillsborough, dial 211 for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
Staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.