MANATEE — The devastating news came early Friday morning: 82-year-old Cecil Mae Taylor had lost her youngest child and grandson in a chaotic home invasion.
Taylor learned her 43-year-old daughter, Patricia White, had been shot to death just moments after the attack at 11:45 p.m. Thursday in Palmetto. The shootout also claimed White’s 22-year-old son, Clarence Jerome White, who authorities believe became distraught over the killing of his mother and committed suicide.
“She was my baby, my youngest,” said Taylor, who lives near her daughter’s duplex in the 3900 block of Third Avenue Drive East. “I want whoever did this caught.”
Taylor sat in a chair in front of her own house with a cane rested in her lap, sifting through photographs of her daughter and grandson.
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The family called him C.J., said Felicia Bellamy, Patricia White’s best friend and C.J.’s godmother.
“She loved her kids so much. She was just an old-fashioned girl, not flashy, just a good person,” Bellamy said, crying. “I have known her all my life. We played hop scotch together when we were little.”
The late-night shooting startled awake a neighborhood that residents say is normally quiet.
“I have been here for more than a year and never had a problem,” said Eric Fowler, who lives a few doors down from the Whites. “And they were always nice people, waving to me, they put out my trash for me a couple of times when I was away. I don’t know what to think about this right now.”
On Friday night, the street was filled with residents and friends standing in shock as deputies continued to rope off the street with yellow crime scene tape. Sobbing women staggered toward the scene fresh with grief as tears ran down their faces.
Sheriff Brad Steube said three men and a woman were in the house with the Whites at the time. They told detectives that two men burst into the home and began yelling and shooting.
Someone in the duplex opened fire on the attackers, hitting one of the gunmen, Steube said. Emergency personnel airlifted 19-year-old Jerome Yarn to an area hospital in critical condition after deputies found him wounded next to a gun.
Yarn is expected to survive and was charged with murder Friday night while he remained hospitalized.
Yarn recently served time in jail as a juvenile after pleading to a 2007 armed robbery and beating of a woman in the driveway of her home.
Detectives also have leads on the identity of the second gunman.
“We have some leads so we believe it is only a matter of time before we have the other person,” sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said. Motive for the attack is unknown, but the witnesses in the home have drug and gang-related records. Patricia White’s boyfriend, one of the witnesses who sheriff’s officials have declined to identify, was also arrested on a violation of probation warrant for a drug-related charge, Bristow said.
It is unclear who shot back at the attackers, and Steube declined to say if C.J. White shot himself during or after the shootout. He said the witnesses told detectives of the suicide, and physical evidence at the scene confirmed it.
“C.J. loved his mama,” said Bellamy, his godmother. “If it is true what they say, it wouldn’t surprise me. He couldn’t live without her.”
Brenda Dixon, C.J. White’s grandmother, had tears in her eyes as she stood outside the duplex during the early morning hours Friday. She said White had just been promoted at Wal-Mart in Palmetto.
“He was just a good person. He was a loving person. He was funny. He was witty,” Dixon said.
She said he was most passionate about his 3-year-old daughter. White also had a 1-year-old son, according to court records.
“He was thinking about what he wanted to do for her,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be hard. She loved her dad.”
On C.J.’s Myspace page, friends left messages telling him how much he will be missed.
The heading on C.J.’s page read, “God knows what’s best for me.”
One woman wrote on C.J.’s wall: “Last night I got the text saying that you were no longer here. My body started shaking and I just start crying. I remember the times we had at Palmetto High our freshmen year. ... My trips to Wal-Mart will never be the same. It was nice to come in there and see your smiling face. I still can’t believe it. I tossed and turned all night thinking, ‘No,no,no,no. He can’t be gone. It isn’t true.’”
Bellamy said Patricia’s husband and C.J.’s father passed away five years ago, and the family had fought to keep their heads above water financially.
“They went through the some hard times. But they leaned on each other,” Bellamy said. “Her kids were her life, and she theirs.”
The Whites were also very good tenants, according to duplex owner Keith Amon.
“I never had a problem with them. They kept their lawn mowed, and I even had other neighbors tell me how much they liked them, which is pretty rare for a tenant to say about another,” said Amon. “This is so out of the blue. I have owned these properties for 30 years, and this neighborhood has always been quiet.”
But the shooting shook the neighborhood as dozens of deputies descended and closed off the road with crime scene tape. It has become an all too-familiar sight in Manatee this year, as the record number of homicides increased with Patricia White being the 27th victim.
“I just want to know if this is another home invasion. I have two infants in diapers inside,” said a 26-year-old woman standing nearby in her driveway in her night gown. She declined to give her name fearing more violence.
“This really is close to home with everything going on right now. It’s kind of scary,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you live or where you go. This is happening everywhere.”