MANATEE -- The former boyfriend of a woman found shot to death in a Duette orange grove is a "person of interest" in her slaying, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Joel Ramirez, 32, on Thursday morning did not show up for his job as a farm worker in Hardee County, the sheriff's office said. Ramirez is also known as Joel Ramirez-Hernandez.
Ramirez is a former boyfriend of Maria Moralez, 42, who was found shot to death Wednesday in an orange grove at 42800 State Road 62, near Duette, according to the sheriff's office.
About 5:30 p.m., a co-worker found Maria Moralez in a tractor. The co-worker had become concerned after Moralez, who kept the grove mowed, had not returned to a company barn at the expected time, according to the sheriff's office.
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Moralez had last been earlier in the day in the grove, according to reports. The grove is owned by F L M Inc. of Brandon.
The sheriff's office said Moralez's death is being investigated as a homicide.
“This thing’s only a few hours old,” sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said late Wednesday. “We’ve got some information we’re going on. We think it’s going to end up being somebody she knew.”
A sheriff's office crime scene unit returned to the grove on Thursday morning after the manager reported finding footprints near the trailer.
The sheriff's office said Moralez was a single mother of five children, and lived in Bowling Green, in Hardee County. Wednesday was Moralez's 42nd birthday.
Her death is the 10th homicide this year in Manatee County.
Anyone with information about the case, including Ramirez's whereabouts, can call the sheriff's office at 941-747-3011, ext. 2159, or Crime Stopppers at 866-634-TIPS.