LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The death of 78-year-old Riverwalk resident Ina Gross, a regular at Paw Park with her dog, Nicky, is being called “suspicious” by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Residents were hoping it would turn out to be just be a tragic accident.
Gross’ body was discovered at 5:37 a.m. Monday in her Riverwalk Hammock garage by her son, Tom, who was visiting from Israel, where he lives and holds dual citizenship. said Randy Warren, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Tom Gross was in the states because his late physician father, Dr. Samuel Gross, a renowned cancer fighter who died on Aug. 3, 2010, was being honored posthumously in Gainesville where he was a cancer researcher at Shands Hospital.
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Tom Gross made the 911 call, Warren said.
As of Monday night, the sheriff’s office was still not ready to term the death a homicide, opting to wait for results of an autopsy performed Monday by Dr. Russell Vega, the Manatee County medical examiner.
The sheriff’s office also indicated there are no persons of interest or leads as yet and the agency is not sharing the details of Gross’ injuries or timeline of her death.
“We want to be absolutely sure,” Warren said. “We have suspicions, but the medical examiner will be the final judge. We are awaiting his report.”
“We are continuing to do interviews with the family and carefully process the scene,” Warren said, referring to Gross’ home in the 11000 block of Hyacinth Place in Riverwalk Hammock.
While the sheriff’s office was being cautious, many neighbors, who adored Gross and her dog, had already made up their minds and were trying to help authorities solve the case.
A group of about a half-dozen of Gross’ friends from Paw Park in Greenbrook, spent several hours Monday milling in the street, which was partially closed off by the investigation.
One resident said Gross’ garage door is electronic and would have been hard to compromise.
Another offered that Nicky, who was in the house at the time, would have barked loud and long at an intruder who came through the front door.
“What mystifies me is,‘Where was Nicky?” a resident said. “She was very protective.”
The Grosses have four children, including Tom, Abby, Sara and Ellen, and some of the four live in Tampa and came to their mom’s home immediately, Warren said.
The plans were that the Tampa siblings would take Nicky back with them to Tampa, Warren said.
Mike Pepper, who has known Gross for seven years, was upset when he heard she was dead.
“I am shocked by this,” Pepper said. “I can take care of myself. But I am worried about all the nice people of Lakewood Ranch.”
Pepper said that, over the years, the community has been touched more and more by outside influences.
“I do see cars cruising by late at night checking out the place,” Pepper said of his street.
Another resident, who asked not to be identified, feared a suspect may still be at large in the community.
“If there is someone out there we should be looking out for we want to know,” said the resident.
Warren urged Lakewood Ranch residents to remain calm.
“We don’t have reason to think that there is a random killer moving around Lakewood Ranch,” Warren said. “We are not in a position to say why or anything more about that now, but that is our position.”
Gross has lived alone since Dr. Gross died, her friends said. Dr. Gross was also known for his volunteer work, including time spent teaching at the Lifelong Learning Academy in Sarasota.
“Ina also donated her time to many causes, like Resurrection House for the homeless in Sarasota,” one resident said. “She was just the sweetest person.”