LAKEWOOD RANCH — The moment Bruce Fast returned home from a trip to the Bahamas one month ago, he says he feared he would never see his wife again.
There was blood on the floor of his home. Steak knives were in the dishwasher. The kitchen throw rugs were in the washing machine.
He reported her missing, but knew the truth was much worse.
Four weeks later, he is confronted with the gruesome and unthinkable death of a woman he held so dear.
"It breaks my heart she met a very violent death," Fast said Thursday, moments after authorities confirmed using dental records the body parts found in a Lakewood Ranch retention pond were that of his wife of 33 years, Susan Fast. "It's something I just have to cope with."
His 52-year-old son, Thomas Fast, is the prime suspect in the slaying.
The uncertainty surrounding Susan Fast's disappearance came to an end Thursday, a day after a woman's remains were found in a pond and a storm-water drain along Town Center Parkway behind the Publix shopping center, miles from the couple's Tara Preserve home.
"It certainly reduces the anxiety," said Bruce Fast, a construction company owner. "And it gives us a degree of closure."
Fast said the emotional drama of his wife being missing is over.
"It's not a happy occasion," he said. "But at least we found her."
Who is responsible?
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office is awaiting an autopsy report from the medical examiner.
"The next step is trying to find out who put her in the pond and who is responsible for the homicide," said Randy Warren, spokesman for the sheriff's office. "We are not sure about a murder weapon. But we are hoping the autopsy is going to help us see an actual specific cause of death."
Thomas Fast has been in the Manatee County jail since June 30 on a concealed weapons charge and a charge of stealing his stepmother's 2008 Lexus sports utility vehicle.
The missing SUV was found abandoned about 3 p.m. June 30 in an east Bradenton neighborhood, with the license tag missing.
A witness in the neighborhood later identified Thomas Fast as the man who abandoned the SUV carrying two black duffel bags, according to authorities.
Bruce Fast told investigators he suspects his son, who has a history of mental illness, had something to do with his wife's disappearance.
"He's delusional at this point," he said Thursday. "But he knows what he did. It was premeditated. I can't forgive him."
Thomas Fast, who has claimed that he has worked for the FBI and that the Russian mafia was involved in his stepmother's disappearance, invoked his right to remain silent after his first conversation with detectives.
From his home in Georgia, Travis Fast, the son of Susan Fast, said his adoptive father is doing the best he can under the circumstances.
"He's extremely grateful to the people who volunteered for the search on Saturday, and the people who were turned away," he said.
The family felt it was an indication of how much the community cared about Susan Fast.
"People who didn't even know her were out there," Travis Fast said.
'It's not over'
He indicated the family is preparing to go through the next phases of the investigation and a possible murder trial.
"She obviously didn't put herself there," Travis Fast said. "There's more evidence out there.
"It has been wearing on the family," he added. "We can put one piece behind us, but it's not over."
Divers from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office returned to Lakewood Ranch on Thursday to comb a similar-sized pond behind San Marco Plaza.
Four divers, two at each end of the pond, searched the murky waters looking for items still missing from Susan Fast's home.
"We are looking for evidence that is still missing," Warren said. "Things that were in Susan Fast's house that are still unaccounted for, like a purse and some clothing items."
Investigators are also looking for a garbage can and the license plate that was removed from Fast's SUV.
By 2:15 p.m., the dive team had completed its search without finding additional evidence.
As the divers were searching the retention pond behind San Marco Plaza, stylists from the nearby Che Bella Salon brought a bouquet of peach flowers in a green vase to the scene.
Attached to the bouquet was a note that read, "Our hearts go out to Susan Fast's family and friends. The loss of Susan is felt in the community and may she rest in peace."
Pam Kantor and Toulouse Kellam, owners of a new store scheduled to open soon in San Marco Plaza called Chasen Reed, said they hoped the gruesome crime will not hurt the reputation of the plaza or Lakewood Ranch.
"We are part of this little family," Kantor said. "It's very sad because we are just starting here and to have something that unfortunate happen in our backyard is upsetting."
In the weeks since Susan Fast's disappearance, traffic in the Tara Preserve neighborhood, where the woman lived with her husband Bruce, has noticeably increased.
The extra attention placed on Bruce Fast has become the burden of his neighbors, who have acted as a "cushion" for the man as he deals with his wife's disappearance and now death, said neighbor Denyse McHugh, who has lived a few doors down from the Fasts for about two years.
"Really, what can you say?" McHugh said. "I can't imagine what would move a human being . . . to do something like this.
"Her soul can rest, knowing her family and friends love her."