MANATEE — Law enforcement officials in Manatee County are urging residents not to take lightly a rash of violent home invasions that have plagued Manatee and Sarasota counties in recent weeks.
The latest came Monday as a man beat a Bradenton couple in their home in the 200 block of 32nd Street Northwest during an apparent burglary, according to Bradenton police reports.
Witnesses said the couple were bound and gagged during the attack, a trend in nine other similar attacks being investigated in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Detectives with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Bradenton Police Department, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota Police Department are all investigating similar cases in which women in their 50s and 60s have been attacked.
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All of the cases have been presented to the FBI in an effort to try to create profile of the possible attacker, though it is not been established that it is only one person committing the crimes, according to Manatee sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.
“We are taking all of our cases individually, as well as looking at them as a whole with the cases in Bradenton and Sarasota,” said Bristow. “We don’t know if it is one person, or several people, but we know this has gotten extremely serious and we need information.”
The cases in both counties have been brutal and in one case fatal. In Sarasota, a 37-year-old woman was beaten and killed in her home on Jo-Ann Drive, which detectives believe is related to other home invasions in Sarasota.
In Manatee, the attacks have been similarly violent, with authorities saying any one of the victims could have been killed. In one case, an elderly woman was pistol whipped on the head from behind. She told authorities she played dead until her attacker left her home.
“It is just luck that none of these have turned fatal,” said Bristow. “When people are being hit on head with a gun, that could easily turn into a fatal blow.”
Bristow and Sarasota sheriff’s Col. Steve Burns both said making arrests in the attacks is top priority within their agencies.
“We have got to get this individual or these individuals into custody,” Burns said.
So far that has been difficult as witness descriptions of their attackers have varied, and in each case the attacker has worn dark clothes, a mask and gloves. He is also known to attack from behind.
“Unfortunately, our victims haven’t had much time to see anything before they are beaten,” Bristow said.
Bristow said any breaks in the cases will most likely come from a vigilant public. Detectives are especially asking residents to be aware of their surroundings during daylight hours, in which all 10 of the attacks have occurred. Investigators believe the homes chosen as targets have been watched, with suspects looking into windows before attacking.
“People tend to let their guard down during the day, but that is when all this is happening,” Bristow said. “It is critically important right now for anyone who sees anything or anyone suspicious to call us or their local agency.”
Authorities are also asking for residents to take preventative measures by always locking their doors when they are home, closing garages and securing any other entry points, according to Bradenton Police Deputy Chief J.J. Lewis.
Bristow said homeowners who notice anything astray or out of place when they come home should back out of their house and call 911. And if an attack should occur, make an effort to remember a description of an attacker, scream if anyone is around, and if alone and injured to “play dead,” Bristow said.
Anyone with information regarding these attacks can all the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011, Bradenton police at (941) 932-9300, or Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.