Two SFCC students found dead in Ocala National Forest
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:08 a.m.
The bodies of two Santa Fe Community College students were found Saturday in a remote part of the Ocala National Forest, where they had been camping.
Amber Marie Peck, 26, and John Parker, 26, both from Gainesville, had been shot, but authorities declined to give any details about the crime. They dismissed any theory about murder-suicide.
"Somebody killed those people,'' said Marion Sheriff's Capt. Dennis Strow. "We will be treating it as a double homicide."
Peck and Parker were three days late returning from a camping trip when Peck's roommate reported her missing Friday to the the Alachua County sheriff's department, said spokesman Sgt. Keith Faulk. Her family then became involved in the search, finding her car parked on a forest road Friday night before hiking to their camp site and discovering their bodies Saturday morning.
Both victims were part of Santa Fe's associate of arts program. Parker had been at the college since spring 2004 and was considering studying forestry. Peck had been attending the school since last spring and planned to major in biological sciences.
On her Web page at MySpace, Peck said she planned to either transfer to the University of Florida and dual major in zoology and wildlife ecology and conservation or attend the James Cook University in Australia for the same degree. She had been living in Florida for two years and was originally from Michigan, according to the site.
The site was last logged onto on Tuesday.
Peck was treasurer of Students for Environmental Harmony, an environmental group at the college. Lisaja DeJesus, a member of the group, said Peck "likes nature,'' worked at the bookstore and was "always busy."
The bodies were airlifted out of the campground around 7 p.m. Saturday and brought to the coroner's office in Leesburg for an autopsy. The camp site was secured and Marion County sheriff's deputies will return today for further investigation, said department spokeswoman Sue Livoti.
Peck's brother-in-law, whose name was not immediately available, was able to pinpoint the location of their camp in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area through the use of a global positioning satellite hookup on his computer. He notified her father, who was camping at Silver Springs RV Park, and they went to the area on Friday.
They didn't find her, but they did find her 2000 red GMC Jimmy around 8 p.m. at Forest Roads 65 and 76, off State Road 19 and about 10 miles south of Salt Springs. The Marion County Sheriff's Office sent deputies to question campers in the area, but did not generate any leads.
On Saturday, family members searched the area, and, along with two hikers, made the gruesome discovery at 8:50 a.m. More than two-dozen family members, who had gathered at the sheriff's command post, were devastated by the news, hugging each other, and crying but not speaking to reporters.
Sheriff's officials at one point issued a bulletin in hopes of finding Parker's red Jeep. That vehicle was found later Saturday in the parking lot of Peck's apartment in Gainesville, where Alachua County sheriff's deputies investigated.
The area where Peck and Parker were found is thick with brush and trees, making headway to the crime scene almost impossible, even with four-wheeled or all-terrain vehicles. Some sections of the area, more than two miles away from her car, had water that was knee or waist deep.
"Some of the problems we faced were the trails, because it was so narrow, it couldn't handle the foot traffic and the forest was too dense for travel,'' said Marion Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Owens.
Deputies had to rely solely on their helicopter to transport equipment, crime scene technicians, detectives and Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Julia Martin. They were delayed because no mechanical equipment is allowed into the forest.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office had to get permission from the Forest Service to venture into the area, according to Jim Ellis, a law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Lake City. The area was designated a wildlife refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt and is part of an official Florida Scenic Area that stretches all the way to Key West.
The national forest has been the scene of other grisly slayings, including an eerily similar case in 1994. John Edwards, a student at Florida State University, and his sister Pam, a senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, were attacked at their campsite in Hopkins Prairie.
He was killed and she was assaulted but survived. Loran Cole was sentenced to death for that crime, and his companion, William C. Paul, received a life sentence.
On Oct. 2, 1966, two young women, Pam Nater and Nancy Leichner, disappeared on an outing at Alexander Springs. That case has never been solved.
Marion County Sheriff's officials are asking anyone with information about Peck and Parker to call Crime Stoppers at (352) 368-STOP, or the Sheriff's Office at (352) 732-9111.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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