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Father kills baby, then himself, officials say


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000

TAMPA -- Theodis Cox wanted to hurt his wife in a way she would never forget, a relative said Tuesday.

When she walked out of their home, holding the couple's 9-month-old son, Cox pulled out a gun. But he didn't aim at his wife.

Instead, authorities say, he pointed the handgun at their son, then shot and killed him.

As Renee Cox stood in the driveway with her dying baby in her arms, her husband walked back into the house and killed himself.

Deputies arriving at 3116 Del Ray Drive found Renee Cox, 34, standing in her front yard holding Theodis Cox Jr.

Thinking Cox was still alive and inside the house, deputies called in the emergency response and crisis management teams, who shot tear gas through windows and broke down the door. Cox, 26, was found dead inside.

Investigators were sorting through the shootings Tuesday and wouldn't confirm details.

But members of Renee Cox's family had no doubt: Cox killed himself after killing his own son to hurt his wife.

"She lost another child to brain cancer a few years ago," said Renee Cox's sister, Sonya McLaughlin. "He knew that losing another baby would make her suffer the most, more than if he shot her. She said he put the gun to the baby's head and shot him."

McLaughlin lives down the street from her sister in the Clair-Mel neighborhood. Their aunt, Cora Ford, lives across the street from the Cox home.

Rarely a day goes by that family members don't see each other or talk to one another, they said, and Theodis Cox had been accepted as a member of the family since he married Renee in January 1999, Ford said.

"They didn't fight; they seemed happy," Ford said Tuesday afternoon. "I don't know what happened. He loved that little boy. He played with him constantly and was always going on walks in the neighborhood with the baby riding on his shoulders."

What Ford and the rest of the family and the neighborhood didn't know, McLaughlin said, was that Renee Cox wanted her husband out of her house because she would no longer tolerate his violence.

Behind the facade of family barbecues, yard work and doting fatherhood, Renee Cox told her sister, Theodis had been beating her.

"She never called the police or told anyone else in the family but me," McLaughlin said. "She worried that the rest of the family would try to kill him. We're very protective."

Renee Cox was too distraught to talk Tuesday. McLaughlin said her sister finally told Theodis Cox a few days ago that she had had enough and wanted him to leave.

To neighbors, however, Theodis Cox was a kind, honorable, responsible young man who built an addition onto his wife's home and painted it himself. He loved his son and his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Renee Cox's oldest child. It didn't make sense, everyone kept repeating.

"Oh yeah, he's great, he's wonderful. He volunteered to be a coach for my son's football team," McLaughlin said. "He's perfect on the outside. Inside, he's a demon."

Theodis Cox didn't have an arrest record in Hillsborough. But records show he was arrested several years ago for battery, aggravated battery and possession of marijuana in Daytona Beach, where he grew up. Cox was placed on probation for those offenses and never went to prison.

McLaughlin handled the crisis with businesslike efficiency Tuesday afternoon, taking her sister under her wing and tending to the family and friends who gathered at her home. One friend asked her if Renee Cox would have to be hospitalized in her grief.

"No, I'm taking care of her. She's staying at my house and I'm going to watch her very closely," McLaughlin said. "Renee's very tough. She's going to be okay."

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