Did past put her on road to shooting?

Kimberly Harrington had seen the pain a sexual attack causes. Her family says that may be what has the teen accused of murder.

Published August 26, 2006

Kimberly Harrington was 5 months old when her father left home for good. Her mother picked strawberries in the fields and cleaned a bank at night to get by, but sometimes they ate peanut butter for dinner.

She was a happy child nonetheless, her mother said, until an older boy who lived a few mobile homes down led her to a clump of woods in the middle of a cow pasture one day when she was 11.

“She was not the same after that incident,” said her aunt, Estrellita Longoria.

“It wrecked her,” said her sister, Melissa Harrington.

And enough incidents of sexual abuse happened in and around their family, Melissa said, that Kimberly was scarred.

A day after a police SWAT team arrested Kimberly Harrington, now 17, for allegedly shooting a man dead in a bathroom early Wednesday then hiding out with three teenage girls for two days, those who know her best said her volatile childhood may have led to her unraveling.
Facing charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, Harrington was being monitored Saturday in a psychiatric hospital in Bartow after suggesting she wanted to end her life.

Her mother, Anita Almazan, visited her at the juvenile assessment center Friday night.

“She looked awful,” she said.

On Saturday, Almazan sorted through pictures of her daughter on the kitchen table inside the double-wide mobile home where Harrington shared a bedroom with several siblings.

Harrington was born with a birth defect that affected the way she walked. She dragged one foot, and kids made fun of her for that.

She was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when she was 6 and was prescribed Ritalin, her mother said.

“She was always in special classes,” Almazan said. “She had problems in school from the beginning.”

But Harrington wasn’t unhappy, her family members say.

She played with Barbies and hosted tea parties for her sister. She loved playing dress-up with her mother’s clothes.

About age 12, she slipped into depression, her mother said. She began to cut her arms and forehead, saw a psychiatrist monthly and took Prozac to feel normal.

She always felt lonely, her family said, and she did not trust men.

She was arrested for her first crime at the age of 13 and racked up six more arrests in the next four years.

“We didn’t have a pretty childhood at all,” said Melissa Harrington, 18. “She’s had a rough life.”

While on the lam last week, Harrington talked by phone with Longoria and her sister. They independently said she offered this version of what happened:

She received a call from her friend, Sandra Sanchez, about midnight Tuesday. Sanchez told her she was with two younger girls at a party in Lakeland and several men were making aggressive advances.

Sanchez told Harrington they feared for their safety and were hiding in a bathroom. Melissa said one of the girls told her sister “they’re trying to rape us.”

According to authorities and her family members, Harrington got a .380 semiautomatic pistol and went to the mobile home. When she arrived, Sanchez, Reva Crawford, 13, and Janet Cruz, 16, were in the bathroom with several men. One of the men pulled the door shut.

Harrington allegedly kicked the door open and told the girls to run. Then she began firing, hitting 23-year-old Daniel Lopez in the back and 20-year-old Christian Avellaneda in the hand, according to reports.

“She went over there to help somebody out,” Melissa Harrington said. “She thought they were going to rape them.”

“What she did was wrong,” said her mother. “But what would have happened if Kimberly hadn’t been there?”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Harrington arrived with two other armed men who held others in the mobile home at bay while she shot Lopez.

Harrington didn’t mention any accomplices when she spoke to Longoria or her sister, both of whom say they encouraged her to turn herself in. And no other arrests had been made Saturday, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Donna Wood.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Wood said. “We’re still weeding through the stories.”

Harrington’s family said she has been smoking marijuana for some time and has used other drugs. But she’s not a bad person and she loves her family, they said.

Just last Christmas, her sister said, Harrington pawned some jewelry to buy presents for her younger siblings.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or bmontgomery@sptimes.com.