3 teenagers dead in gang related shootings
Authorities in north-central Florida's Marion County are investigating the gunshot deaths of three teenagers whose bodies were discovered in different locations over the course of three days last week in the Forest Lakes Park area of the town of Ocklawaha.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods revealed on Tuesday that the deaths are believed to be connected, that all three of the victims knew each other, and that their murders may be linked to the activity of "hybrid" or "wannabe" gangs, local Fox affiliate WRBW reported.
The sheriff also sought to put to rest a handful of rumors circulating around the community by stressing that this was believed to be an isolated incident, that his office wasn't searching for an additional victim, that there wasn't a serial killer on the loose, and that his investigators were eyeing "many suspects" as possibly being linked to the crimes.
Three murder victims discovered over three days
In a Facebook video post on Monday, Sheriff Woods provided an update on how the first victim, identified as 16-year-old Layla Silvernail, had been found on Thursday in a roadside dumpster alive with a gunshot wound to the head -- though she later passed away at the hospital.
On Friday, the body of an unidentified 17-year-old male was found dead from a gunshot wound on the side of the road not too far from where Silvernail had been discovered.
Then on Saturday, the car belonging to Silvernail was found a short distance away partially submerged in a pond, and once it was pulled out of the water and searched, the body of another 16-year-old female was found inside dead from a gunshot wound.
"My Major Crimes detectives are working around the clock continuing their homicide investigation and diligently following up on every potential lead," Sheriff Woods said. "We are devastated for the families of these three teens, and we are dedicated to bringing whoever is responsible for these heinous acts to justice."
Murders possibly linked to "hybrid" or "wannabe gangs"
Local ABC affiliate WCJB reported that Sheriff Woods held a press conference on Tuesday to provide another update on the apparent triple homicide after it was confirmed that Silvernail had died from her injuries.
That is when he first referenced the fact that his investigators were looking closely at the possibility that the three murders were linked to the activities of "hybrid gangs" or "wannabe gangs," though he would not say whether the three victims themselves were associated with or involved in any alleged gang activities.
"Let’s be frank," Woods said. "Anyone who associated with a gang at some point in their life, they’ve done something, whether they have been arrested or not. So, when I tell you it is a hybrid gang, it is not a gang because it is all unicorns and everything else. It is a gang because they do illegal stuff."
He also expressed his confidence that the killer or killers – the sheriff reiterated that there were "multiple suspects" – would ultimately be caught and compelled to face justice and accountability.
"We are going to get them. They are going to find them. They are going to put the pieces of the puzzle together and they will be – I’ve got people looking at me right now, but I’m going to do it anyway – their asses are going to be right over there in that jail," Woods asserted.
Sheriff provides limited additional info
The Daily Mail reported that Sheriff Woods, when asked by a reporter to clarify if it was believed that the three victims were part of a gang, said, "I don't have … there is information that we are being given that is a possibility of hybrid gangs and that is about it. I can't tell you who's associated, what gangs associated with, or anything like that."
Asked again if he was implying that the victims were involved in gang activity, he stated, "That's not what I'm saying. I'm not going to give an answer to that question without knowing for sure that that person was. It's a possibility because it's information that we were given. What we are investigating is a murder, not necessarily what their association is with a gang. We are investigating their murders."
When asked if the deaths could have been part of a gang-related turf war, he replied, "Everything is a possibility," but when asked if any of the victims had previously been in trouble with the law, said, "I can't answer that. Because I don't have all the information at the moment."
Sheriff Woods was also asked about where in the partially submerged vehicle the third victim had been discovered, but refused to say because "That's the type of information that could compromise the case." He also seemed to imply that the suspects in the crime were not necessarily teenagers themselves.
As for the people spreading rumors online via social media, the sheriff said, "You don't know what occurred. Or if you do you're not coming in and talking to us, and you need to." He added, "Because we need to solve this and put the pieces of the puzzle together so we can put the individuals who committed the crime behind bars."