Three domestic violence-related suicides in 25 hours in Polk County

Deputies said Michael Manning shot and killed himself during a stand off related to a domestic disturbance. Inside the home, deputies found 1,700 rounds of shotgun bird shot. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
Deputies said Michael Manning shot and killed himself during a stand off related to a domestic disturbance. Inside the home, deputies found 1,700 rounds of shotgun bird shot. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
Published Nov. 2, 2018

The seventh shot was muffled. It was also the last.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office said 43-year-old Michael Manning fired six shotgun rounds through the doors and windows of his Lakeland home Thursday evening. He almost struck two deputies responding to a domestic disturbance call and his 16-year-old daughter. Then, Sheriff Grady Judd said, he turned the gun to his head.

It was the third death in Polk County related to domestic violence in 25 hours.

"It was a horrible, horrible day," Judd said Friday.

Earlier that night, Manning's wife Jennifer was on the phone with her mother while she and her husband argued, deputies said. Her mom, who lives in Pinellas County, heard what she thought was commotion and called deputies in Pinellas, who contacted Polk County.

Two deputies arrived around 7 p.m. Michael Manning refused to open the door, Judd said. Deputies told him they just wanted to check and make sure everyone was okay. Pings from Jennifer Manning's cell phone came from inside the house. Judd said deputies wanted to make sure the couple and their two children were safe.

What deputies didn't know was that the argument had ended. The couple's 14-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter had gone out on bicycles and Jennifer went to buy chicken for dinner. When she came home, a massive police presence blocked her way home. She tried to get around and eventually decided to wait it out in her car, where deputies found her sleeping.

She had no idea they were there for her. And for her husband of 18 years who now lay dead in their home.

"Had she not made that phone call, she'd have gone to the store and calmly bought her dinner," Judd said. "They'd have eaten chicken and gone to bed."

Deputies saw the children as they tried to come home, before Manning fired the shots. The daughter, deputies said, was uncooperative. The son ran to a friend's house. When she was found, Judd said Jennifer Manning didn't want to talk either. It was only after learning their husband and father was dead – three hours later when the Sheriff's Office was able to access the house – that deputies said they became cooperative.

Neighbors and Jennifer Manning's mother said Michael Manning had a disdain for the government, especially law enforcement. The children were allegedly home schooled, Judd said, but not registered with the county.

Just twelve hours before, about 7:30 a.m., students were arriving at Mulberry Senior High School. A school resource officer heard a gunshot and ran towards it after alerting the principal to put the school on lockdown. He got to 1210 NE 4th Street in Mulberry in time to watch 48-year-old Julio Serrano Jr. shoot himself in the head with a .357 Magnum revolver. He had been arguing with his ex-wife Maria Milan in front of her home.

And a little more than 12 hours before Serrano shot himself, Antero Araujo, 40, was arguing with his wife, 42-year-old Beatriz Araujo in Lakeland. He shot her, then shot himself in front of their 21-year-old son. He died at the scene, his wife died later at the hospital. Their two other children were waiting in a truck outside the house.

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"In 25 hours, from Halloween evening until the next day, right at 25 hours, seven children lost either a family member or both family members to suicide. All instances were domestic violence related," Judd said. "If you're having domestic problems, get help."

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 108 domestic violence-related deaths in 2017, a 9.5 percent increase over the previous year.

Anyone experiencing domestic violence can call the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence at (800) 500-1119 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at Follow @danuscripts.