MANATEE — Terror struck two Bradenton neighborhoods Thursday after separate — but, investigators say, likely related — drive-by shootings sent bullets tearing through two families’ homes.
One woman was critically wounded in the second drive-by shooting.
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,’” Eva Johnson said in her living room Thursday afternoon, as she surveyed the damage to her home in the 1100 block of Orlando Avenue.
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After hearing his wife’s screams, Steve Johnson came running out their bedroom with his .357 handgun, but a vehicle carrying the gunman had already sped off. The Johnsons’ 19-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter were also in the home, but no one was injured. Just 15 minutes later, however, a 49-year-old woman was hit by bullets that riddled her home in the 1700 block of 17th Street East, in the Kingdom Estates neighborhood.
The woman was airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
The woman had two teenage sons in her home at the time of the shooting; neither was injured.
“I feel so lucky. But someone else’s mother didn’t have that luck,” Eva Johnson said 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 Street East attack; the agencies began to suspect the shootings may be related. In both incidents, detectives believe the gunmen used an AK-47 rifle and a handgun.
Bradenton police blocked off the 17th Street 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 because they believe the shootings are related, but no arrests had been made late Thursday.
“We won’t know until we make arrests, but we are working under that premise,” Bristow said.
Meanwhile, neighbors of the injured woman expressed disbelief and sorrow over the shooting.
“She is a very nice lady. It’s scary. That’s why I moved from this street. I’d hear gunshots at night all the time,” said Mattlen Wortham.
Wortham still lives just a block from the shooting and awoke to the gunshots.
“I heard the shots and went looking for my mother to make sure everything was OK. But I stayed in the house,” she said.
A 9-year-old boy living two doors down from the victim’s home in Kingston Estates looked on as police investigated the shooting and talked of his terrifying morning. The boy was asleep in his bed when the sound of gunfire erupted.
“I was scared and rolled onto the floor until it stopped,” the boy said.
As detectives continued to investigate the shootings, Steve Johnson swept up broken glass in his son’s room. It was only a twist of fate that his wife had not been getting ready for work in the living room torn apart by the bullets. Eva Johnson’s first day of vacation was Monday, and the nurse had slept in longer than usual. Steve had the day off, too.
“If we were doing what we normally do in the morning, we would both be dead. I don’t know what is going on in this town, but it’s not safe anywhere,” Johnson said. “Crazy kids with guns. It’s everywhere.”
— Herald photojournalist Tiffany Tompkins-Condie contributed to this report.