DELTONA, Fla. – The bodies of six friends were found scattered through a blood-spattered house Friday in what Volusia County’s sheriff called “the worst thing that we’ve ever seen.”

The four men and two women were discovered about 6:30 a.m. after one of the victims failed to show up for the morning shift at a nearby Burger King where five of the victims worked.

It was the deadliest mass killing in Central Florida in more than a decade, and police said the killer, or killers, were still on the loose.

“I don’t believe this was a random act by any means. I strongly believe these people knew who their assailants were,” Sheriff Ben Johnson said, adding that it was “very, very possible” that more than one person was involved.

Johnson said the crime scene displayed “an extreme level of violence” and there was evidence of a struggle.

“It’s a very, very brutal crime scene,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to describe what went on in that house.” Even a “little brown dog” in the home was killed, he said.

No arrests had been made late Friday, and sheriff’s officials released little information. Johnson would not identify the victims, say how they had been killed or speculate on a motive. But investigators were known to be looking into a series of disturbances and acts of vandalism that preceded the killings.

Detectives have identified what he called “persons of interest” in the investigation, Johnson said, but he added, “We have no one I would call an absolute suspect at this time.”

The extent of the crime scene suggested there may have been more than one killer, Johnson said, but he said it’s also possible the killer acted alone.

Four of the six bodies were removed from the home Friday evening. It might be days before all of the victims are positively identified, sheriff’s officials said.

Friday was an agonizing day for the families and friends of those who lived in the home.

Steve Nathan, waiting outside the line of crime scene tape surrounding the home Friday, said his 19-year-old daughter Michelle Ann Nathan was among the victims.

Johnson said Friday night one victim had been positively identified, but he did not release the victim’s name. Identifying the others might require dental or fingerprint comparisons, he said. Autopsies are scheduled to be performed today and Sunday.

Nathan said his daughter, a 2003 graduate of nearby Pine Ridge High School, joined the Army after graduating. But, while stationed in Missouri, she was soon discharged for medical reasons, he said. She returned to Deltona, where she got a job at the Burger King and moved into the rented home with friends about three months ago.

“She just got a car, a Camaro. She was real excited about that,” Nathan said. “She liked her car. She liked boys.”

Neighbors said they knew little about the group of young people, who investigators said ranged in age from 18 to their early 30s, who rented the three-bedroom home on Telford Lane off Howland Boulevard in northeast Deltona a few months ago. Property records show the home is owned by a New York man. It was not clear how many of the victims lived in the home.

“In hindsight, there were things that just didn’t look right,” said neighbor Margaret Melito. She couldn’t pinpoint anything specific, she said, but it seemed odd that so many people were living together in the home.

“You see things and you wonder, but then you get busy with your own life,” Melito said.

The Burger King where five of the victims worked was located less than three miles northwest of the home.

The restaurant was closed Friday, signs on the door saying, “Sorry for the inconvenience.” Several employees huddled in the restaurant through much of the day. They left, some in tears, without commenting to reporters.

While investigators still were trying to piece together events leading up to the killings, there were signs a dispute had been brewing in recent weeks, both at the Telford Lane home and another where some of the victims had lived until recently.

Sheriff’s officials recently were called to the Telford Lane home for what Johnson described as “a disturbance, like a fight.” And they had also been called after someone slashed the tires on a car parked at the home.

“We don’t know that it’s the same people involved” in the killings, Johnson said.

On Friday, sheriff’s investigators were searching a second home on Providence Boulevard, a few miles from the scene of the killings. Johnson said at least some of the victims had lived there before moving to the Telford Lane home, and the Providence house is owned by the grandparents of a young woman who lived in the Telford Lane home.

Sheriff’s dispatch records showed that deputies were called to the grandparents’ house six times in the 10 days before the killings for reports including a suspicious incident and suspected burglaries.


A sheriff’s spokesman said reports of those calls, usually public records, would not be released “because prior incidents at this address may be related to today’s homicides.”

Next-door neighbors William and Treva Stump said loud parties raged at the grandparents’ house for about two months, with the noise and music often keeping them awake until 2:30 a.m.

“They were hollering out there on the sidewalks,” William Stump said, “pretty near every night of the week.”

The parties ended abruptly Saturday when deputy sheriffs arrested three young men, the Stumps said.

The Stumps are friends of the owners, who spend the summers in Maine, and they have a key to the home, they said. When Treva Stump went over to check on and clean up the house, there were pizza boxes and clothes strewn on the floor. Someone broke into the house on Monday and again on Thursday night – the night of the killings – and Treva Stump found the front door forced open and the door frame damaged.

At the Telford Lane home, sheriff’s officials said it likely will take days to finish processing the crime scene.

“We’re going slow, very methodical,” said sheriff’s spokesman Gary Davidson. “It’s going to take some work.”

It was believed to be the worst mass killing in Florida since 1990, when a man angry about his vehicle being repossessed fatally shot eight people in a Jacksonville loan office before killing himself.

Family and friends of those feared to be victims waited helplessly throughout the day.

Rocky Gonzalez spent the day down the street from the crime scene, smoking cigarettes while he waited for word on a friend, who told him he planned to stay the night Thursday at the house where the bodies were found. He hadn’t heard from his friend since then, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, 22, said his friend knew the people in the house because he worked with them at the Burger King. His friend, who is 28, had just moved down from New York a couple of months ago and was going to start a new job Friday morning.

“I wish they’d tell us something,” Gonzalez said. “They’re just not telling us anything.”

(Orlando Sentinel correspondents Kevin P. Connolly, Charlene Hager-Van Dyke, Beth Kassab and Brian Baskin contributed to this report.)

(c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at On America Online, use keyword: OSO.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BODIES

AP-NY-08-06-04 2158EDT

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