Another shocking twist emerged Friday in the baffling slaying of three Florida teens last week—the accused killers are just kids themselves, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods revealed in a press conference.
Christopher Atkins, 12, and Robert Robinson, 17, were arrested Thursday night and allegedly confessed to shooting one victim. A third suspect, 16-year-old Tahj Brewton, is still on the run, Woods said.
“They fled the scenes but left a lot of evidence in their wake,” Woods said.
The killings have rocked the rural community of Ocklawaha since bodies began turning up one-by-one between last Thursday and Saturday, all with gunshot wounds. Woods revealed this week that the three teens were friends who were shot dead at the same time but dumped in different places—two off the side of rural roads, and one stuffed in the trunk of a car that was submerged in a pond.
The ordeal sent Ocklawaha, a community of just 1,500, into a frenzy, with residents telling The Daily Beast that many feared a serial killer was on the loose.
Woods shot down those rumors on Tuesday, however, saying the triple murder was linked to “wannabe gang” activity. He insinuated Friday that the “terrible tragedy” likely stemmed from a robbery-gone-wrong, but wouldn’t provide specifics when pressed by reporters, saying it could jeopardize the search for Brewton.
“Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” Woods said. “Don’t ask dumb ass questions. Really do I have to spell it out for you? Gangs don’t go to church on Sunday and preach gospel the next six days. They’re in gangs because they commit crimes.”
Layla Silvernail and Camille Quarles, both 16, were identified as two of the victims by their family and friends. The third victim, a 17-year-old boy, wasn’t publicly identified by authorities at his family’s request.
Silvernail was found alive but brain dead off the side of the road last Thursday. She was taken off life support on Tuesday and had her organs donated. Her softball league wrote on GoFundMe that she was “the definition of a team player” who will be “will be greatly missed.”
Quarles’ sister wrote that she was a “beautiful person” who she'll “forever miss.” Her body was found Saturday in the trunk of a Chevrolet Cruze owned by Silvernail.
Woods said he’s been eager to dish specifics about the case from day one, but his office has kept a “leash” on him—including refusing to divulge any evidence that was left at the crime scenes. He said the media, residents and the 15 detectives he assigned to the case combined to land the quick arrests.
“My emotions are all over the place because I am so, so proud of my guys and girls,” Woods said. “I didn’t do a damn thing, but they stepped up to the plate. And yes, you, [the media] put information out there, and I’ll admit this, you weared my ass out.”
Woods said Atkins and Robinson were taken into custody Thursday at their homes. He claimed the boys’ mothers looked “embarrassed and ashamed” as deputies whisked their sons away.
Woods said prosecutors are still weighing whether the two will be charged as adults but he emphasized he believes “they deserve the full extent of the law.”