Two adults, two children found shot to death along Florida's Turnpike

Saturday, October 14, 2006

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Police on Friday found what appeared to be a family of four gunned down overnight along an isolated stretch of highway: a woman clutching two children in a forlorn effort to protect them, with a man's body nearby.

Investigators believe the victims' vehicle had pulled to the side of Florida's Turnpike before someone else in the vehicle shot them and drove away sometime between 1:30 and 3 a.m., Sheriff Ken Mascara said.

The sheriff would not say whether investigators knew of a motive or had any suspects, but that they did not think it was a simple carjacking. He said whoever killed the family could be driving their dark-colored Jeep, which had a temporary license plate. He did not say what state the plate was from, but did say the victims were Florida residents.

A passer-by spotted the bodies around 8 a.m. in Port St. Lucie, about 100 miles north of Miami, and alerted the Florida Highway Patrol. The bodies were in a grassy area near a golf club, several miles from the nearest rest stop.

Janis Rich, a 67-year-old retired bookkeeper, said she and her husband were asleep in their golf club home, a quarter-mile from the scene, when they awoke to a loud "pop-pop-pop-pop" sound from the direction of the turnpike just before 2:30 a.m.

Rich said the couple saw no traffic or anything else in the darkness. "We were trying to hear anyone speaking, anyone crying, but it was total quiet," she said.

The names of the 29-year-old man and 25-year-old woman were withheld until relatives could be notified. The children were believed to be 4 to 6 years old, the sheriff said.

The woman "had both the children clutched in a defensive mode, in an attempt to protect them. It gives the appearance that they were a family traveling," Mascara said.

The vehicle left tire tracks as it pulled away, Mascara said. A turnpike camera was in the area but wasn't recording at the time, he said.

The two adults' last names did not match, but authorities believed the victims were a family.

Investigators were watching 480 hours of surveillance tapes from turnpike toll booths and searched trash cans along the road looking for clues. They were also analyzing the bullets used in the shootings to see whether they could be matched to other crimes, Mascara said.

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