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Sketch brings tips in home invasion

MANATEE — Authorities are using a multitude of tactics to crack a series of violent home invasion attacks they believe may be related — including asking the FBI for help.

Local officials want the FBI to look at all of the cases as a whole to consider whether the same person committed the crimes and, if so, develop a behavioral profile of the serial attacker, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow.

Sheriff’s detectives released a sketch of a man who is believed to have beaten and bound an elderly woman in her home, and are investigating if the same man committed as many as nine other similar attacks in Manatee and Sarasota counties. In one attack in Sarasota, a woman was found killed in her home.

Another tactic is getting the word out to road deputies to be on high alert. And they’ve warned the public to take seriously anything suspicious in their neighborhoods.

The sketch is based on the recollections of a witness outside the home where the March 13 attack occurred, in the 8200 block of 19th Avenue Northwest. The man was described as standing 6 feet tall and weighing 170 to 200 pounds.

Investigators have urged anyone with information on the attacks to come forward. The release of the sketch is an effort to generate leads in a case where more clues are needed, Bristow said.

“The sketch did what we hoped it would do — start generating some information,” Bristow said. “We have things to follow up on.”

In the 19th Avenue attack, an 84-year-old woman was pistol-whipped on the head from behind and bound with a cord. The man reportedly spoke of needing drugs, according to Bristow.

A witness outside the home said he saw a man with a red backpack in the area and provided a description for the sketch. A witness in another similar attack in Manatee reported seeing a man with a red backpack in the area at the time of the crime.

The most recent attack was Monday in Bradenton’s Riverview Boulevard neighborhood. In that case, a man beat and bound a couple in their late 50s or early 60s in their home, in the 200 block of 32nd Street Northwest.

Assessing whether the cases are related would be the first step taken by the FBI in creating a profile of an attacker, according to former FBI agent Gregg O. McCrary.

“They will look at everything available and try to say these were committed by the same person, while these might not fit,” said McCrary, a 29-year FBI veteran and profiler in dozens of national and international violent crime investigations.

If a trend is identified, agents will then concentrate on identifying common threads among victims, such as age or patterns of coming and going from their homes.

“Victims could also be quizzed on whether they have received phone calls out of the ordinary or someone knocking on the door trying to sell something or offering to mow their lawn. Sort of a ruse where a person could find information about a possible victim,” McCrary said.

Then the FBI will seek a profile of an attacker, which involves looking at how he commits his crimes, as well as where and when he strikes. Agents also will try to establish whether an attacker has spent time observing his victims before striking.

“They will want to establish if he has been peeping and prowling, watching his victims before he commits his crimes,” said McCrary. “Once a profile of how he commits his crimes is formed then you can start to categorize someone based on trends and techniques the FBI uses.”

A geographical profile of where the crimes have occurred may also be crucial to the investigation.

“In the majority of these cases, the person is very comfortable with the area where they commit their crimes,” McCrary said.

It is not out of the ordinary for an attacker to strike in different regions, he noted, which may be the case locally as multiple attacks have taken place in both Sarasota and Manatee.

“In some cases, a person might live somewhere they are comfortable with, and work somewhere they feel comfortable as well,” he said.

The common thread in the attacks is violence, and that could provide investigators with a good shot at establishing a profile, McCrary said. An attacker who seeks such violence often feeds on hurting someone.

“Most burglars don’t want a confrontation, so it is a whole different ball game with someone who is purposely selecting people viewed as weaker than them and looking to hurt somebody,” McCrary said.

Bristow said FBI officials have so far been meeting with victims in the various home invasions. FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said a profile can be completed relatively quickly based on the amount of evidence available to profilers.

Meanwhile, local authorities continue to urge residents not to let their guard down.

All of the attacks have been in the daytime, prompting authorities to ask Manatee residents to report any suspicious activity during the day. Residents also have been urged to lock their doors and windows, close garages and secure all other points of entry.

Anyone with information on the sketch or the home invasion cases should call the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011, Bradenton police at (941) 932-9300, or anonymously at Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.

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