A couple shot and killed by a masked mob early Thursday in the Bradenton, Florida, home they shared with their five children were specifically targeted by the killers, according to police.
“It wasn’t random,” Detective Lieutenant James Rackey of the Bradenton Police Department told The Daily Beast. “We believe the gentleman was targeted and the female just happened to be there at the time.”
Police received a call at 3:51 a.m. from the couple’s alarm company notifying them of intruders at the home. According to police, three masked individuals threw a brick through the glass panes of the front door and killed the couple soon after. It was unclear if the assailants took anything from the house, Rackey said. The children—whose ages range between 1 and 11 years old and who were all home at the time of the murders—were unharmed. Most were probably asleep as the slaughter occurred, according to Rackey.
Investigators found the body of Kantral Markeith Brooks, 29, the biological father of two of the children, just inside the door. Esther Deneus, also 29, and mother of all five children, was lying dead in the hallway just behind him. The children were taken for questioning by Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Specialists Unit and police said they would be soon placed with family members of the deceased.
A manhunt is underway, and police say they’ll soon release two photos of the gunmen leaving the scene taken from surveillance cameras outside the residence.
In the meantime, the family of the victims are mostly not speaking to media, but have congregated outside the crime scene to wait for further news.
“She’s a good person, a good mother,” Tia Jenkins, Deneus’s cousin, told a local reporter. “She went to work, didn’t bother people.” A friend of Brooks and Deneus at the scene told the same reporter the couple didn’t have any known enemies.
“They were very nice people, very quiet, never complained, were easy going. I just can’t say anything bad about them,” the couple’s landlord, Ludmila Narins, told The Daily Beast. Narins said the family had lived there since August and she helped them get furniture and linens when they moved in.
“I asked the neighbors, ‘How is your new tenant?’ and everyone said, ‘No noise, the children behaved and were nice kids,’” Narins said.
According to Narins, Deneus was a medical worker in a nursing home and Brooks worked in landscaping.
Brooks was a registered felon in Manatee County and had been arrested 11 times since 2005 on charges ranging from marijuana, meth, and cocaine possession and distribution, to failure to stop for police and fleeing to elude, as well as robbery by sudden snatching. His most recent drug charge was in 2009.
Deneus had small brushes with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office as well, for driving with a suspended license and for violating parole.
Investigators are clear that they neither have a motive nor a suspect yet and are “unsure” whether Brooks' “extensive criminal history” might have anything to do with the murders, which have rocked the family and the city of Bradenton, with a population of around 50,000.
The murders of Brooks and Deneus were the first for the city in 2015, according to Rackey, and 2014 had just three murders all year.
“Unfortunately, murders happen,” said Rackey, “but something as brazen as this—with five kids—is just a tragedy.”