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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Slaying puts Terra Ceia on edge

MANATEE — Kathleen Briles died a violent death, detectives confirmed Tuesday, sending shockwaves of fear and sadness through the slain 48-year-old’s Terra Ceia neighborhood and the rest of the community.

Briles, wife of Dr. James Briles, was killed sometime Monday in the couple’s home, detectives have determined. Dr. Briles came home from work just before 8 p.m. to find his wife dead, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Randy Warren said.

“There is evidence that violence was involved,” Warren said.

Warren declined to say how Briles was killed as detectives conducted an extensive sweep of the Briles’ home in the 200 block of Bayshore Drive. The sheriff’s office closed Bayshore Drive for hours as the investigation continued.

Briles’ slaying pierced the normally tranquil community that straddles U.S. 19 north of Terra Ceia Bay.

“We’re in shock,” said Julie Roberts, a Terra Ceia resident. “We feel like we live on this bucolic island and things like this don’t fit.”

Detectives conducted dozens of interviews with the Briles’ family, friends, coworkers and business associates.

“We are talking to a lot of people,” said Warren.

He declined to say if there are any suspects, but said there appeared to be no indication Dr. Briles was involved in his wife’s death.

“This investigation is really wide open right now,” Warren said. “We are looking at everything.”

The Briles family has been cooperative with the investigation, he added.

“A lot of people know Dr. Briles in this community, and I am sure there are many people who are certainly saddened for his family,” Warren said.

Warren said Dr. Briles was in an unknown location grieving Tuesday.

“This has just been a terrible shock today,” said Dr. Raymond Raitz, James Briles’ colleague at the North River Family Health Center, where they have practiced for more than 20 years.

Becky Smith recently struck up a friendship with Kathleen Briles when they both joined the Bradenton Toastmasters, a group in which members work to get better at public speaking in front of crowds.

Smith said she and Briles had planned to go to a Sarasota comedy club Saturday. Briles worked hard in the group and often made passionate speeches about her family, her beloved cats and a recent drive she pushed to collect soccer balls to send to Iraq for American troops, who could give them to children there.

“She was quiet, but friendly,” Smith said. “Always prepared and always working hard. I just feel so badly for her family, she talked about them so much. For somebody’s last moments to be like that, it is just terrible.”

Sandra Miller, the Briles’ neighbor two doors down on Bayshore Drive, said Kathleen Briles had a passion for nursing stray cats back to health.

“She was a homebody, and very fond of animals,” said Miller. “I am just so shocked and saddened for Dr. Briles and his family. It is just terrible and tragic.”

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a longtime friend of Dr. Briles, said the news brought her great sadness, and an outpouring of support from the medical community in Manatee.

“He was such a respected doctor in this community,” she said. “My husband is a surgeon and he said everybody in the surgery center and in the medical community is devastated. When I heard he got home late in the evening, it sounded just like him. He is a hard worker and he was always at the hospital making rounds after his office closed.”

Whitmore reflected on her friendship with the doctor, saying she took Dr. Briles on his first orientation through Manatee Memorial Hospital as head of physician relations.

“I met him when he first got here,” she said. “He became a very close friend. He and all our friends would get together every Sunday for football. When he got married he was so happy, and as far as I know he has been happily married ever since.”

Whitmore said the doctor adopted Kathleen Briles’ three sons and the couple raised them together. Their oldest, Curtis, who is in the U.S. Army, came to the Briles’ house Tuesday as investigators continued to process evidence, but declined comment.

Brenda Scott, Briles’ patient of 12 years at Family Health Center, in the 600 block of Fourth Avenue West, Palmetto, expressed shock and sadness over his wife’s death.

“I didn’t know her, but Dr. Briles is a wonderful person, an excellent, caring doctor,” she said. “I hope they find who did this. I hope her family can get through this. It is really scary, just too close to home.”

Janet Thoreson, vice president of the Terra Ceia neighborhood group, the Village Improvement Association, said Briles’ killing has the neighborhood on edge.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” she said. “This is quiet Terra Ceia, not Bradenton. This is the kind of neighborhood where we used to leave our doors unlocked.”

Patrons coming into the tiny Terra Ceia Post Office on Center Road talked about little else Tuesday.

Postal worker Belinda Rimer said many residents appeared upset and concerned.

“They’re all saying how they’re thinking more about safety concerns,” Rimer said. “Like locking their doors, getting a dog and keeping their gates closed. They’re just trying to make themselves feel more safer.” — Herald Staff Writer Carl Mario Nudi contributed to this report.