ST. PETERSBURG — Eleni Peca said it wasn’t easy for her to come to St. Petersburg police headquarters Thursday and speak to reporters about her daughter Joana’s slaying.
“But we need justice,” a tearful Peca said. “The babies need justice.”
Now authorities are offering a financial incentive to find the man police say fatally shot 27-year-old Joana Peca last weekend while she held their 4-month-old baby in her arms. Peca’s 4-year-old child was also in the car at the time of the shooting, according to police.
Before Eleni Peca walked up to the lectern at Thursday’s news conference, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway announced that the reward for information leading to the arrest of Benjamin “Bambi” Williams, 38, now stands at $20,000. Williams is wanted on a second-degree murder charge.
Holloway’s department has launched a manhunt for Williams with help from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service. The two federal agencies have each pledged $10,000 toward the reward, Holloway, said.
Authorities asked anyone with information on Williams’s whereabouts to call 1-877-926-8332.
According to investigators, Williams and Peca were in a romantic relationship and had a 4-month old baby together. About 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Peca was holding that baby while sitting in a car near the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens cemetery, near the corner of 60th Street South and 1st Avenue South, when Williams shot her multiple times in the face, police said.
Witnesses who came to help Peca didn’t know she had a baby in her arms until they moved her, Holloway said.
“That’s how close that child came to being killed,” Holloway said.
The 4-year-old, the chief said, “has to live with that for the rest of his life, watching his mom be executed.”
ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Craig Kailimai said he decided to offer his agency’s assistance after he learned of the details of Peca’s “terrible and senseless death.”
“We need to capture this person as quickly as we can and get him off the streets,” Kailimai said.
Holloway said investigators aren’t sure whether Williams has left the area.
“We just know that he did kill someone in our city and thanks to our federal partners, there’s no place for him to hide because wherever he is, this information is out there and we’re going to find him,” Holloway said.
Williams is from the area and is a person of interest in other homicides in the city, Holloway said. He didn’t have additional details about the other cases on hand.
“Once we get him in we’d like to talk to him about those cases also,” Holloway said.
Eleni Peca said her daughter was a wonderful person and a wonderful mother. Now it’s up to her family to take care of two traumatized children left motherless by “a monster,” Peca said.
Peca said Williams called her daughter that day and she agreed to meet him at the cemetery to support him because his sister is buried there.
“That was my daughter,” she said. “She felt bad for him.”