Deputies this morning found a gruesome scene at a suburban home in an eastern Polk County neighborhood. It was the apparent result of a drug dispute.
A man and a woman were fatally shot, a second man was shot and tortured, and a toddler was found covered with blood but alive beneath the body of the woman, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the man and woman were "executed" in the house at 619 Dunlin Lane. He did not identify the victims.
The third victim, Wilkins Merilan, 29, was shot twice and tortured, Judd said. Merilan hid in a closet for two hours before calling 911. Deputies received the call at 6:09 a.m., Judd said. It was Merilan's 3-year-old daughter who was found under the body of the woman.
Originally, investigators thought the girl was dead, but then they heard her snoring while they were collecting evidence at the crime scene, the sheriff said.
"Even though she was covered in blood, she was asleep under the dead lady, alive and well," Judd said. "This is the only bright spot to this crime today."
The bloodbath began shortly after midnight Saturday, the sheriff said. Five to six men forced their way inside and told Merilan, "If you're going to sell drugs, you're going to sell our drugs ," the sheriff said at a press briefing. "And by the way, where is the $5,000?"
The group then demanded money from Merilan before torturing and shooting him, the sheriff's office said. The woman victim, described as a black female, and the other person fatally shot, described as a while male, were gunned down during the incident. Their identities have not been released as their families have not been notified of their deaths.
A woman who identified herself as the mother of the dead woman said she had a reward for anyone who had information about her daughter's killer. The woman provided her daughter's name, but TBO.com is not releasing it on the chance other family members have not been informed of the slaying.
"I am not leaving this town until I found out who killed my baby," the woman said. "Right now my heart is broken 'cause I have five children and now I have to walk around and say I have four."
The woman victim was not the mother of the 3-year-old, the sheriff's office said. The toddler's mother was not present during the shooting and does not live there, the sheriff's office said.
If, as it appeared, the five to six suspects were confronting Merilan, a question loomed as to why they killed the man and woman, the sheriff said. Investigators talked to the 3-year-old girl, and what she told them solidified what they had already learned, the sheriff said.
Merilan was transported to Tampa General Hospital, Judd said.
Judd beseeched anyone in the community to contact the sheriff's office if they have any information on the shooting. Anyone who wishes to contact authorities anonymously may do so by calling 1-800-226-TIPS, he said