No single suspect in death of UF student Saleha Huuda

Detectives have spoken with a former boyfriend who was charged in June with domestic battery against her before the case was dropped.


Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 6:41 p.m.

As the investigation continues into the death of University of Florida student Saleha Huuda, detectives are looking at potential suspects that include a former boyfriend charged in June with domestic battery against her before the case was dropped.

Firefighters last week discovered the burned body of Huuda, 21, while responding to a small fire near the Gainesville Raceway.

A vigil in tribute to Huuda is being planned for Saturday at 7 p.m. at UF's Reitz Union amphitheater. Huuda was a competitive cheerleader on a UF club team and she was active in campus dance groups.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Art Forgey said detectives are treating the case as a homicide but haven't zeroed in on a single suspect in the case. Detectives have spoken with Antonio Devon Drayton, 24, of Gainesville, who last year was accused of pushing and choking Huuda before the case were dropped.

"With a history there, it's definitely something you have to look at," Forgey said.

According to a police report, Drayton allegedly pushed his way into Huuda's southwest Gainesville apartment on June 16. He was accused of kicking in the door of a locked bathroom that she was in, pushing her down and choking her, before leaving with $1,000 in items. He was charged with battery, burglary and larceny, but Huuda later asked for the charges to be dropped.

In a letter to prosecutors, Huuda said Drayton left only with items he owned and that she would not testify against him. Another woman who was with Drayton at the time of the incident also sent a letter disputing the accusations, and the State Attorney's Office decided against prosecuting the case.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Drayton said he was drunk at the time of the incident last year and might have pushed Huuda but never choked her and took only items he had bought for her. He said he had dated Huuda for more than a year and remained friends with her after breaking up, saying that news of her death was "devastating."

He last saw her Dec. 26 and exchanged text messages with her Dec. 29 around 5 p.m., he said. Huuda's body was found early the next morning.

Huuda was a senior majoring in family, youth and community sciences at UF. She had expected to graduate this spring after completing a practicum that would have involved her volunteering with children, said Tikya Nattiel, a longtime friend and member of the Urban Essence dance group with her.

Huuda was a native of Ghana whose family moved to the U.S. when she was a girl. Nattiel said they met when Huuda started attending P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School as an elementary school student. Nattiel described Huuda as being a goal-oriented person who never missed commitments.

"If she had a problem, she would never wear it on her sleeve," Nattiel said.

Huuda had been with Urban Essence, a female dance group that has performed on BET and MTV shows, for two years and recently had acted as its secretary, said Tarnessa Gaines, president of the group. Group members plan to dance at Saturday's vigil, details of which were being formulated Wednesday as students returned for the first day of the spring semester.

Gaines described Huuda as being feisty, someone who would not let people run over her despite her short stature.

"She was such a leader," Gaines said.

Huuda's missing car was discovered Monday, and a forensic team from the Sheriff's Office continued examining it Wednesday for evidence. Forgey said anyone who had contact with Huuda is a potential suspect in her death, and her involvement with dancing and cheerleading means that includes a long list of people.

"Statistics will bear out that it's usually someone you were familiar with, but we want to look at everything," Forgey said.

Drayton said he initially spoke with authorities because he reported someone had splattered red paint on his door early Jan. 1. He said he found out later that day that the body discovered had been identified as Huuda, and a detective questioned him about that and took a swab from his mouth.

Drayton also had been involved in a case in November in which Huuda was arrested for violating a restraining order. Police reported that she was visiting Drayton and encountered a woman who had filed the order in October. The woman had been dating Drayton.

The woman reported that she had a physical altercation with Huuda, who knocked a piece of pizza from her hand, and received threatening text messages from her. The violation of the restraining order was not prosecuted because Huuda entered into a civil mediation program, said Spencer Mann, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office.

Alachua County detectives are asking anyone with information about Huuda's death to call 955-1818. Callers also may remain anonymous and be eligible to receive a reward of as much as $1,000 by calling Crime Stoppers at 372-STOP (7867).

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top