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Elderly couple found dead

A Brookridge man shot his companion and then himself, deputies say. It's the county's first murder in over a year.

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published October 2, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - An elderly Hernando County couple were found dead in their home Sunday morning after an apparent murder-suicide.

Anthony X. Viola Sr., 91, shot Athena P. Howell, 82, before turning the gun on himself, said the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

A suicide note was found at the scene, but its contents were not released. It's the first murder in Hernando County in nearly two years, said Donna Black, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

Neighbors of the pair, who lived in Brookridge, a gated community east of Brooksville, called Viola's nephew after newspapers piled up in the driveway for several days, said neighbor Robert Wall, reached by phone Sunday evening.

Hernando County sheriff's deputies found the bodies in the couple's mobile home shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday.

Anthony Viola of Spring Hill confirmed by telephone that Viola was his uncle, but said he would not give out any information. "His children are on the way."

The elder Viola purchased the mobile home in 1985 with Doris L. Viola, according to county property records.

Sharon Dickenson, a resident and security guard at Brookridge, said she used to play cribbage with the couple.

"I just heard it on the news," she said Sunday evening, shaking her head in disbelief. Although she hadn't played cribbage with them for some time, she knew the pair still played pinochle. "They were very active," Dickenson said.

Viola had been in and out of the hospital lately, but seemed better. "He was back driving," she said.

Wall said that he had known Viola for 17 years. He described him as a proud father, avid golfer, and a good friend.

Viola's wife has been in a nursing home for several years, and Howell moved in with Viola following the death of her husband. Wall described her as a "live-in companion."

"They looked after each other," Wall said.

The violence of his friend's death stunned him, and he could think of no explanation. Viola had some health issues recently, but seemed happy, he said.

Wall and neighbors became concerned after mail and newspapers piled up. Usually, Viola had Wall pick up his mail if he went away, and never left for an extended time without telling them.

Wall said, "We're in a neighborhood where we all watch over each other, and take care of each other."

Neighbor Alma Rambo, reached by phone, said, "He was a very attentive husband, a good father, and a great guy. He loved to golf, he enjoyed gambling, playing cards."

Rambo said she had known him for 20 years. Viola was a good husband, and always made sure his ailing wife, who has Alzheimer's, was well taken care of, she said. He played golf until six months ago. When his sons visited, they golfed with him.

For several years "Tony and Tina," as Rambo called them, went dancing, took walks and played cards.

Rambo said, "They enjoyed life so much. I can't believe he did this."

Times staff writer Tamara El-Khoury and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352754-6127.

[Last modified October 1, 2006, 22:01:55]


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