BRADENTON -- A couple was shot to death early Thursday morning during a home invasion while their five children were also in the house, Bradenton police investigators said.
The children were not harmed, but at least one reported to investigators seeing three to five masked intruders shoot the couple and leave the home, just across the street from Prine Elementary School.
Esther Deneus, 29, and Kantral Markeith Brooks, her 29-year-old boyfriend, were killed in their home in the 3900 block of Southern Parkway West.
With video clips and images captured by the home's surveillance video, detectives are asking for the public's help in identifying the shooters.
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The images and video show three people walking up to the home, one of them throwing a brick through the glass in the front door, all three pointing guns and then all of them walking into
At 3:51 a.m. Thursday, police were alerted to the scene when the home's alarm monitoring company called them out.
The windows on the double front doors were broken inward, and Bradenton police Lt. James Racky said the body of Brooks was found just inside the doors. Deneus was found in the hallway behind him.
When police arrived, they found five children in the house between the ages of 1 and 11. According to relatives, Brooks was the biological father of two of the children, but they all lived as a family unit.
The children's safety could be a concern, Racky said. They were immediately taken from the scene and were in the care of detectives, child protective services and a victim's advocate during the investigation.
The children will be returned to family members only after officials determine the safest place for them to be, investigators said.
"We talked to the family and told them these kids, if they saw anything, it's going to be very traumatic for them. The kids need the family's strength, they need to know the family is there for them and they need their support," Racky said.
Racky also told the family that investigators will need their assistance.
"We also asked the family for any information that will come to them because word of mouth will come around," Racky said. "Whoever came to this house and did this act today, they will be talking about it, somebody knows about it and the family on scene ... somebody is going hear about it."
Roosevelt Brooks was in disbelief since receiving the early morning call that his nephew and Kantral's girlfriend had been killed.
"I don't see why anyone would do this to them," Brooks said. "It's senseless, senseless."
Brooks recalled his nephew as a good father who loved his children and family. His nephew was also very close to his mother, he said.
Kantral Brooks' mother stood by at the scene for hours, too upset to talk to media.
Roosevelt Brooks said what freaked him out the most when he heard the news was that the couple was so happy and low-key.
"You don't feel the pain until it hits home," said Brooks. "You see it on TV. I never knew that feeling, but now I know the feeling to lose a family member to a home invasion."
Deneus was a licensed practical nurse and Brooks worked in landscaping and for Waste Management.
At about 10:30 a.m., a nearby neighbor arrived at the scene with photos of a suspicious vehicle. The man said he spotted a car early Thursday that he thought was suspicious so he took photos, had them printed and brought them to police at the scene.
Another neighbor told police that around 3 or 3:30 a.m., she heard what sounded like a motorcycle speeding off.
Justin Alvay, also a neighbor, said his children played over there all the time and that they were a normal, quiet family.
"We've lived here for seven years," Alvay said. "We've never had nothing like this."
Deneus was studying to be a registered nurse at Suncoast College of Health in Bradenton, according to owner and president Lori Barnes.
"She was a very bright student; she was almost done with her program," Barnes said. "She was just an all-around bright young lady and she definitely had a bright future ahead."
Faculty are taking the news of Deneus's death pretty hard, she added.
Barnes reached out to the family at the scene and has also set up a gofundme.org account.
She said the money will be used for the couple's burial and to help get their kids get settled. To donate to the account, people can visit gofundme.com/yz8m7k.
The school also intends to award a posthumous degree in Deneus's honor since she was so close to earning her degree, Barnes said. Deneus was going to school so she could better provide for her children.
"Her kids were everything to her," Barnes said.
In the past several years, Brooks served two prison sentences for convictions of possession of cocaine, sale of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school or religious organization, sale, delivery or manufacturing of cocaine and fleeing law enforcement.
Anyone with information can call Bradenton police Detective Jeff Beckley at 941-932-9300, ext. 356, or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000, call Crime Stoppers (toll free) at 1-866-634-8477 (TIPS) or send an anonymous E-Tip thru the web.
-- Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, contributed to this report.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeleon1012.