Night of partying ends in shooting
Four missing teens are found, and one faces a murder charge in the death of a man in Lakeland.
By S.I. ROSENBAUM and BEN MONTGOMERY
Published August 25, 2006
SEFFNER — Middle of the night. Sandra Sanchez called a friend.
She told Kimberly Harrington she was at a party. Two young men were bothering her and her teenage friends.
“They’re messing with us,” she said.
Then, police say, Harrington — a 17-year-old with an arrest record dating back to age 13 — went to get her .380 semiautomatic pistol.
By the time Tuesday had turned into Wednesday, one man was dead, another wounded inside a rundown mobile home where roosters roam out front.
Harrington, Sanchez and two friends were on the run.
On Friday, with Harrington in custody and charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the unfolding tale was one of the strangest and most confusing of his career.
“We’re still unraveling this,” he said. “And we have as many different versions of the story as we have people we’ve talked to.”
The story he told began Tuesday night, with three teenagers partying in a mobile home in a park in Lakeland.
Reva Crawford, 13, her best friend Janet Cruz, 16, and Sanchez were hanging out with two young men: Daniel Lopez, 23, and Christian Avellaneda, 20, who also goes by Francisco Gutierrez.
The men hit on the girls. The girls ignored the men.
Judd said Lopez was drunk. “He said some pretty ugly things,” Judd said. The two men left.
An hour later, they came back to return a cell phone, Judd said.
They started talking to the girls again. Sanchez called Harrington.
About 12:45, Harrington arrived at the trailer with two unidentified men, all three armed.
While the men held a pistol and a shotgun on party guests, Judd said, Harrington strode toward the bathroom, where the three girls were hiding with Lopez and Avellaneda.
Avellaneda poked his head out of the bathroom. He saw Harrington and grinned at her. Then he slammed the door.
Harrington kicked it open.
“She told her homegirls to run,” Judd said.
They ran. She started firing.
Judd said Harrington shot Lopez in the back. She tried to shoot Avellaneda, but the gun jammed. Three times. Then it fired. She shot the cell phone out of his hand, wounding him.
Then, Judd said, the girls and the two armed men left, driving off into the dark morning.
At first, said Judd, detectives told people that Harrington and her friends had witnessed a murder. But they suspected from the beginning that Harrington might be the shooter.
In the last four years, she had racked up charges of felony assault and grand theft. She frequently ran away from home.
Reva Crawford’s folks knew none of that. Their daughter had gone off the night before to sleep over with Janet Cruz. The two often spent whole days at a stretch together.
It wasn’t until late Wednesday that they grew worried, after Polk County sheriff’s detectives told them Crawford may have witnessed a shooting a few miles away.
Detectives asked Crawford’s brother, Trent Crawford, to call his sister on Cruz’s cell phone.
She didn’t respond. A few minutes later, his phone rang.
It was Harrington.
“She sounded awful,” he said. “Like she was on drugs.”
He asked her if he could bring them food or groceries, trying to learn where they were staying.
Harrington wouldn’t tell him.
Friday morning, two and a half hours before dawn:
Polk County deputies searched a mobile home just over the county line in Hillsborough County.
The girls had been there but moved on.
They had gone to ground in yet another mobile home park, this one miles east in Seffner.
Judd said Harrington was getting scared. She forced Crawford and Cruz to stay in the mobile home’s bedroom, only letting them out to use the bathroom.
She talked on the phone with an aunt, who begged her to let the girls go.
At 9:45 a.m., Judd said, Harrington did.
The aunt called the police, who came to meet Crawford and Cruz at a Rooms To Go parking lot on U.S. 92.
Ellis Crawford hadn’t slept much that night. Not even the preacher from the local Baptist church had been able comfort him.
“I’m sweating bullets,” he said.
The man, who sells scrap metal and car parts at the flea-market on weekends, went out front to pace.
“This is all I been doing,” he said. “Coming out here, looking down the road and wondering when she’s going to come back.”
Just after 10:30 a.m., a reporter told Crawford that Reva and Janet had been found in Hillsborough County. Crawford cried in the street.
His wife, Sabrina, called family to spread the news.
Sheriff’s detectives told the Crawfords to stay put. They pulled plastic chairs against a privacy fence spray-painted with the words: “Beware of a lot of dogs.”
A minivan pulled in front of the house on Strain Boulevard.
“They found her?” the driver said.
“They found two of them,” Sabrina said.
In Seffner, Hillsborough County sheriff’s SWAT team members surrounded the mobile home park.
Nearby, on U.S. 92, deputies and reporters waited in the heat. A news chopper hovered.
Finally, a little after 4 p.m., Harrington and Sanchez came out. With them was another man, Adam Longoria, 20.
Judd said later that he wasn’t sure whether Longoria was one of the armed men who stormed into the party in Lakeland. He said Longoria gave his address as “Lithia-Pinecrest, down a dirt road.’’
Hillsborough deputies took the three into custody.
At the Falkenberg Road jail, Harrington confessed to the shooting, Judd said. She was also wanted in Hillsborough County on a warrant for burglary.
Sanchez and Longoria were held for questioning.
Around 4:30, a sheriff’s detective told the Crawfords to pack a change of clothes. She walked next door and told Janet Cruz’s mother to do the same. The two families loaded into a minivan and drove toward a sheriff’s substation.
When they arrived, they were whisked into an office. A sheriff’s detective arrived a few minutes later with Janet Cruz and Reva Crawford.
Inside, her parents grabbed Reva and cried.
Late Friday, Reva and Janet were released. When she got home, Reva greeted neighbors with a smile. Ellis Crawford kept pacing.
“I thank God for my baby,” he said.
He asked reporters not to question Reva. He said she had been through enough. He said he suspected she had witnessed the shooting.
“Nine out of 10 says she saw it,” he said. “Hopefully she’ll be all right.”
Times staff writer Andrea Chang and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
[Last modified August 25, 2006, 23:20:43]
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