MANATEE — A slight woman peeked from behind a cracked door after responding to her door bell.
Her kind, but cautious, eyes peered out.
“You’re the first person I’ve opened the door for,” she said after hearing an introduction from a Bradenton Herald reporter.
The blinds are shut tightly to her home. The doors are kept locked.
The woman is one of 10 victims who law officers believe may have been attacked by a masked man in dark clothing in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
It remains unknown if the violent attacks and robberies are being committed by the same person, but there are similarities, according to authorities.
A man standing six feet and weighing about 180 pounds targets upper middle class residential neighborhoods and mostly female victims. In most cases the victims are older than 50. He often wears dark colored clothing and a ski mask.
It’s unclear what his race is and victims have been unable to give a detailed description to authorities.
Authorities issued a sketch last week, but no suspects have been identified, and no arrests have been made in the cases.
The victims of the attacker continue to physically heal as they pick up the pieces.
It’s been several weeks since the intruder came into the woman’s home. She’s lived in the same house for 34 years.
Her neighborhood is normally safe, she said. She used to leave her doors unlocked.
But that changed when an intruder came into her home, robbing her and repeatedly pistol whipping her.
“This man,” she said pausing. “He was an animal. I’m fearful he may come back and try it again.”
Out of fear for her safety, the woman’s name and location are not disclosed in this article.
The details of her attack were not discussed in order to not hinder the case authorities are trying to build.
Despite the attack, the woman said she has tried to go on with her life.
There are still reminders.
The gashes on her head are still healing.
A few blood stains in her house couldn’t be cleaned away.
After the home invasion, she was hospitalized for a few days.
“I still have my wounds to contend with,” she said taking her fingertips to her head and reaching for the abrasions.
Victims’ injuries from the attacks have included teeth getting knocked out and deep gashes needing stitches from being beaten with various objects. Some have been sexually assaulted. One woman in Sarasota was found dead in her residence.
In many cases, the victims give the attackers their valuables. He beats them afterwards. He appears to watch the victims before striking.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said detectives continue to follow up on tips generated this week by the released sketch.
“Everyone needs to be cognizant of their personal safety,” said Steube reflecting on the robberies. “It appears he’s been stimulated by the violence. … I just wish we could catch this guy. We’re putting a lot emphasis in those zones with patrol.”
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Col. Steve Burns said a task force was formed between law enforcement agencies in Sarasota and Manatee counties in which detectives meet weekly to exchange information.
The case has been difficult because there is no detailed description. The composite sketch released last week came from a neighbor who saw a man running away with a red backpack and dark clothing in one of the Manatee County attacks.
“We still can’t verify all cases we’re looking at were the same person,” Burns said.
The FBI is also working on a profile of the attacker in hopes of finding him before he finds other victims.
In the meantime, authorities are urging residents to lock their homes at all times.
If someone unknown comes to the door, they need to talk to the person through the door, Steube said.
“If someone is home, they need to confront them by talking to them. Otherwise, someone may break in thinking no one is home,” he said. “Watch to see if they walk away. If they don’t, call 911.”
Steube suggested walking with another person rather than walking alone. If there is no one else, look around, he said.
In a previous interview with another victim, the woman said, “Walk with a friend. Walk with a buddy. I passed two women right before I was attacked. There were two of them, and I was by myself. I will keep walking. I will walk with a friend.”
Burns said if residents notice suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, they should dial 911.
The attacker remains at large, perhaps, plotting his next move.
“I do fear. I guess everyone who’s gone through it would too,” the woman said standing at her doorstep. “You can’t let something like that make you a prisoner in your home.”
Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.