BRADENTON – Terror struck two Bradenton neighborhoods Thursday after separate — but, investigators say, likely related — drive-by shootings sent bullets tearing through a pair of families’ homes, leaving a woman critically wounded.
At 6 a.m., Steve and Eva Johnson awoke to rapid firing of gunshots as rounds ripped through their home, breaking windows, leaving holes in a wall and shattering a glass light cover on a chandelier. Their cars in the drive-way were also hit.
“I heard, pop, pop, pop, pop. I yelled, ‘Steve, it’s a gun,’” said Eva Johnson in her living room Thursday afternoon, as she surveyed the damage to her home in the 1100 block of Orlando Avenue. After hearing his wife’s screams, Steve Johnson came running out their bedroom with his .357 handgun, but it was too late as a vehicle that held the gunman had already sped off. The Johnsons’ 19-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter also in the home were also not hurt.
Fifteen minutes later, at about 6:15 a.m., a 49-year-old woman could not avoid bullets that riddled her home in a second drive-by shooting in the 1700 block of 17th Avenue East, in the Kingdom Estates neighborhood.
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The woman was critically injured and airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
Like the Johnsons, the woman had two teenage sons in her home at the time of the shooting, who were uninjured. “I feel so lucky. But someone else’s mother didn’t have that luck,” Eva Johnson said of the victim with tears in her eyes. “I feel so terrible for her and her family.” As the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigated the Orlando Avenue shooting, Bradenton police responded to the 17th Avenue East attack, and the agencies began to suspect the shootings as possibly related. In both incidents, detectives believe the gunmen used an AK-47 rifle, as well as a handgun.
Bradenton police blocked off the 17th Avenue East home with yellow crime scene tape as detectives awaited a warrant to search the home for clues.
Police declined to release a possible motive for the shooting, but investigators do not believe the victim was the target. Detectives will interview her sons for possible clues, according to Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer.
“We have no reason to believe that she was the intended target,” he said. Eva Johnson said detectives also interviewed her son for any possible leads. Bradenton police and sheriff’s detectives are working together to investigate the two shootings, but no arrests have been made.
Sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said detectives believe the shootings may be related. “We won’t know until we make arrests, but we are working under that premise,” Bristow said.
For more on this story, pick up a copy of Friday's Bradenton Herald.