Police: Suspect out to kill 'preppy kids'
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:08 a.m.
A 19-year-old Largo man charged with killing two Gainesville college students came to Ocala National Forest with an assault rifle and a desire to kill at random, according to police.
Leo Lancing Boatman was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of John Parker and Amber Peck, both 26-year-old Santa Fe Community College students. Boatman was expected to be taken to the Marion County Jail early today and to be held on a suicide watch.
Detectives believe Boatman stole his uncle's AK-47 rifle, took a bus to Ocala from Clearwater, bought camping equipment at Wal-Mart and took a cab to the forest. They believe he encountered Parker and Peck the next day as they were leaving from an overnight camping trip, allegedly firing "multiple shots" to kill them.
"It was random," said Marion County Sheriff's Capt. Chris Blair. "I really believe they did not know it was coming, they had no time to defend themselves."
Boatman allegedly told a girlfriend that he didn't want to kill someone with nothing to lose and shot the first "preppy kids" he came across. Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean called Boatman "a would-be serial killer, that had he not been stopped now, would have continued killing."
Police say they broke the case with the help of a 20-year-old man who reportedly gave Boatman a ride as he left the forest after the killings. Joey Tierney, a Georgia resident visiting his mother in Lake County, said he picked up Boatman on Jan. 4 about 6 p.m.
"He just looked like a nice guy," Tierney said. "I felt sorry for him."
Boatman allegedly told him he was carrying a rifle, before he was dropped off at a Silver Springs hotel. Tierney said he "got cold chills" when he heard on the television Saturday that two students were killed on the same area he picked up the hitchhiker.
Family members of Parker and Peck expressed gratitude that Tierney came forward.
"Without him, who knows what would have happened," said David Peck, Amber's father. "We're just so glad that this could be put to rest."
With Tierney's help, detectives say they pieced together a series of events leading Boatman from Largo to Ocala and back again.
They allege Boatman stole his uncle's assault rifle on New Year's Eve, leaving Clearwater on a Greyhound bus two days later. He arrived in Ocala early Jan. 3, and video footage shows him buying $391 worth of camping equipment at a Wal-Mart there at 2 a.m. that morning. A cab company told police one of its drivers brought Boatman to Juniper Springs Recreation Area.
Later that same day, Parker and Peck left Gainesville for a planned overnight camping trip in a remote part of Juniper Springs. Witnesses heard gunshots at noon the next day, according to police.
About six hours later, Tierney said he picked up Boatman on a road near the site of the killings. Tierney said Boatman was carrying a large bag, telling him he had a rifle and knife. Boatman said he left Southwest Florida looking to escape city life and live in the woods, according to Tierney.
He dropped Boatman at a Holiday Inn in Silver Springs, but police say the rates were too expensive and Boatman instead went to the nearby Silver River Inn. Records show he stayed there and left the next morning, according to police.
Peck's roommate reported her missing when she hadn't returned three days after she was expected, leading Peck's family members to use satellite tracking to locate her car near a forest road Friday night.
The family embarked Saturday morning through rough terrain to reach their campsite, finding the bodies face down near Hidden Pond, off the Florida Trail. The bodies were airlifted that night for an autopsy, and investigators combed the scene for evidence.
Sheriff's deputies found at least five shell casings at the scene and believe each victim was shot at close range multiple times, said Marion County Sheriff's Capt. Tommy Bibb. Parker's wallet was found rifled through, he said, but all their equipment was packed and it appeared they were leaving the forest when they were killed.
After Tierney called police Saturday night, detectives were able to track Boatman's movements to the hotels. They learned his identity from a copy of his driver licence at the hotel where he stayed, then found he had taken a Greyhound back to Clearwater.
On Monday, detectives interviewed Boatman at his Largo home. When asked about the rifle, he allegedly told them it was a pellet gun and showed them one in his shed. But by this time, Bibb said police had statements from Boatman's friends and family that he had stolen the assault rifle.
According to a police report, Boatman's girlfriend told police he had said he "went to the woods and killed someone." Boatman told her, "I wouldn't kill a bum because they would have nothing to lose" and "I went out there and came across two preppy kids and killed them," according to the report.
Parker and Peck were members of Students for Environmental Harmony, a SFCC environmental group. He was a former U.S. Marine who planned on studying forestry; she had planned to study biology at a school in Australia.
Michelle Blackburn, a close friend of Parker's, was shocked by the apparent randomness of the killing.
"This is tragic. It's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard," she said. "Go figure - it's just some idiot with a gun. I hope he gets the death penalty.
"It makes me mad that it was such a senseless death, but it brings me a lot of peace and a lot of closure to know he's in custody," she said.
Peck's friend Sarah Austin said she felt better knowing Boatman was in custody, "but I don't see any reason why he would just feel like shooting somebody," she said.
"These people's lives and the lives around them will not be the same just because he thought somebody's life wasn't valuable," Austin said, her voice breaking with emotion.
At SFCC, "to just get closure on this horrible case is a good thing," said college President Jackson Sasser. "There's been a sense of loss at Santa Fe, especially for those that knew these promising students so well."
Parker's sister, Bethany, said the family is glad they can move beyond the mystery and begin grieving.
"Our family is grateful that this killer has been caught and now we can focus on remembering my brother," she said.
Sun staff writer Tiffany Pakkala contributed to this report.
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