Suddenly, she wasn't alone at Grandma's

Brittany Keeler was home, sick - and strange men were at the door. Then one came in.

Published May 19, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - It was 9:30 a.m. Thursday when the knocking started.

Brittany Keeler, 13, was home alone. The eighth-grader at River Ridge Middle School was battling a cold and stayed home sick.

Her grandmother, Patricia Schroeder, was at a doctor's appointment. They weren't expecting anyone.

So Brittany, heading to the bathroom to take a shower, eased into the hallway to peek out the living room window of the Bass Lake Estates home.

Two strange men stood near the front door.

Brittany noticed something else: Schroeder had accidentally left the front door unlocked.

"I was scared because I thought that they'd come in," she said. "The blinds were open, and I knew if I came out into the living room, they'd see me."

As Brittany carefully positioned herself in the hallway, one of them men jiggled the door handle. He never turned it.

Seconds later, the knocking stopped. Brittany thought the men were gone. Until they started knocking on the windows.

Fearing they would break in, Brittany grabbed her cell phone and ran into her grandmother's bedroom to hide in the one place she thought was safe.

Behind the door of Grandma's closet.

Brittany turned off the light and stood.

Instead of calling 911, Brittany dialed some friends. She finally reached an uncle.

"I was scared and I wanted to talk to someone," she said.

But he was at a hospital with his wife, and couldn't come to the rescue.

That's when one of the men got in.

"I was talking to my uncle, and I said, 'I heard the back door open,'" she said Friday.

The uncle told her to call 911. But by then, the intruder had come in and headed straight for the closet. Brittany didn't have time to call for help. The man might hear her.

As she stood behind the door, the intruder turned on the closet light. He reached down toward Schroeder's boxes of shoes.

"His hand went past my face," Brittany said.

Then, Brittany blurted out the one thing that came to mind:

"Um, excuse me!" she said to the strange man.

"Oh s---!" said the robber, as he ran out of the closet toward the back door.

Brittany chased him.

"I've never seen someone run so fast," she said.

The man fled out the back door and ran toward a nearby 7-Eleven on Bass Lake Drive. On the back porch, he left behind a white T-shirt authorities say he used to keep his fingerprints off the door.

As she dialed 911 on her cell phone, the teenager offered parting words for the intruder hopping into a Lincoln sedan.

"I yelled, 'Don't come back,' and I locked the door," she said.

A few minutes later, Schroeder, 64, called her granddaughter from the doctor's office. She asked her to grab something out of the freezer and thaw it for dinner. Brittany was crying.

"She (Brittany) said, 'Grandma, somebody broke in the house and I called police,'" Schroeder said.

Later, at the house, Schroeder applauded her granddaughter's courage. But she chided her for waiting so long to call 911.

"Stupid," she said, "but brave."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.