Breauna Dorris, 23, last saw her mother Thursday morning, when she came over and asked to use her daughter’s phone.
When she returned home later that night, Dorris found a bag of children’s books hanging from the doorknob. They were a gift for her two kids — ages 1 and 2 — from their grandmother, Sabrina Peckham.
“That’s the last thing that I have from her,” Dorris said.
Around 2 p.m. Friday, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the area of 134th Avenue North and 121st Street, near Ridgecrest Park, after receiving a report about a body in the water. A dive team with the agency later recovered the body from the water, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A male alligator, 13 feet, 8½ inches long, was located in the water, removed and killed by authorities, according to a Friday news release.
On Saturday, authorities publicly identified Peckham, 41, as the person who died. The cause of her death is still under investigation.
Dorris said she knew something was wrong when her mother didn’t show up for a visit on Friday.
“She would, you know, tell me she loved me and ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ And nine times out of 10, she would come back the next day,” she said.
Dorris said her concern for her mom rose after reading news articles Friday afternoon about an alligator “in the same creek where she was sleeping” that had “a human torso in its mouth.”
“The only thing that I could think of is ‘God, I hope that’s not her,’” Dorris said. “And then Friday evening, I get the knock at the door from the Sheriff’s Office.”
Peckham, who was experiencing homelessness, spent most nights camped just 500 feet from where authorities found her body, according to her daughter.
On Saturday morning, Dorris went out to erect a memorial where Peckham’s body was found. She arrived to see flowers and balloons already there. A GoFundMe page to raise money for the cremation and burial costs had exceeded its goal of $10,000 by nearly $2,000 as of Tuesday morning.
Dorris said one reason she has been so willing to share details about her mother is to put to rest online comments about Peckham that “make her out to be a homeless junkie.”
“She wasn’t,” Dorris said. “She had a family that cared about her and loved her.”
Dorris said she never had the financial means to take her mother in, but helped Peckham as much as she could.
“She would come by almost every day to see us, and there was odds and ends that she needed from time to time — food and toiletries,” Dorris said. “Anything that I could give to her, I would.”
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Dorris said it’s been difficult to wrap her mind around the gruesome details surrounding her mother’s death, and her grief comes in waves.
“There’s times that I just think about the good times that I’ve had with her and the memories that I’ve made with her,” she said. “Other times, I can’t stop thinking about the pain and suffering she would have went through.”
Dorris has a handful of toys and books given to her children by her mother. Most of them came from thrift stores or community church drives. She said she will make sure her children know where the gifts came from and feels grateful that her mother got to meet her grandchildren.
“Unfortunately, they’re so young that they probably won’t remember her,” Dorris said. “But I’m going to do my best to make sure that they know who she was.”