DELTONA, Fla. - An Orange County man is facing a murder charge after a 25-year-old man was found shot to death at his Deltona home Tuesday, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies said 50-year-old Gregory Bender, the Windermere man who authorities on Wednesday called a person of interest in the death of Patrick De la Cerda, was booked into the Orange County Jail Thursday on one count of first-degree murder.
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De la Cerda was shot through the front door of his home multiple times by a high-powered rifle, Chitwood said.
The investigation began after De la Cerda was found with gunshot wounds around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday by his girlfriend who went to check on him after his father tried calling him several times, deputies said.
De la Cerda’s father tried contacting him after receiving a text at 7:38 a.m. from someone who said they were making a delivery to De la Cerda’s home and needed to get through the gate, authorities said.
Before then, the victim's family members said they last made contact with him at about 7:15 a.m. when he was at the family's home on Howland Boulevard.
The shooting was initially being investigated as a “domestic incident,” authorities said Tuesday.
"This is not a random act of violence, is what we're saying. What we're saying is there's more to this story and we believe there's going to be a domestic tilt to it when we're done with it," Chitwood said.
Chitwood said deputies were investigating several leads.
"There's other players involved, there's a restraining order that's out that is very interesting to us. Both the decedent and girlfriend have a restraining order against another individual," Chitwood said after the shooting.
Chitwood said Thursday that De la Cerda and his girlfriend both filed injunctions against Bender. De la Cerda filed his in October, but it was denied, deputies said. His girlfriend filed one in December that remains active.
Chitwood also said that the victim had been involved in two prior disputes with his neighbor, an Army veteran who suffers from dementia.
In late 2017, deputies said the neighbor shot at the victim because he thought the victim was an intruder. In another incident earlier this year, deputies said the neighbor was armed with a revolver.
The neighbor was arrested after the first incident and held under the Baker Act after the second, according to Chitwood.
Bender was taken into custody Wednesday after De la Cerda’s girlfriend showed authorities screenshots of calls and harassing texts she received from Bender at 10 a.m. the day of the shooting, Chitwood said. The woman said she thought it was strange that he called since he had not tried to contact her since she filed the injunction against him.
Authorities carried out a search warrant at Bender’s home before arresting him for allegedly violating his probation, deputies said.
While searching Bender’s home, detectives found evidence that ultimately led them to charging him in connection with De la Cerda’s death, including his plan of attack that detailed where De la Cerda lived, what clothes he would change into and plans to change his license plate and use burner phones, according to Chitwood.
"He went out of his way – Bender -- to find out where our victim lived. He went out of his way to find out how to access the property. He went out of his way to know that there were security cameras on that property,” Chitwood said.
The sheriff said investigators found security cameras at the home where De la Cerda died, but that the footage was not inside when detectives checked, and that authorities believe it was removed before they arrived.
Detectives said investigators also found multiple guns in Bender’s home. His concealed weapons permit expired in 2016, according to Chitwood.
The sheriff described Bender as a married “hedge fund guy,” with a comfortable salary and expensive home in Windermere.
Chitwood said Bender was so driven by jealousy when his relationship with De la Cera’s girlfriend, who is younger than him, ended.
"Here is a married man dating a girl much younger than he is, and when they decide the relationship is over, his way of fixing everybody is to grab a high-powered rifle and stalk, basically is what he did,” the sheriff said. “He stalked our victim until he got a clear shot at him and then he shot and killed him."
The sheriff said Bender tried to get the victim to the front door by saying there was a package. That way, De la Cera would have had to go outside and walk 50-60 yards to the gate.
Chitwood called Bender’s efforts “painstaking,” saying he planned the attack for months.
Deputies said Bender had no criminal history.
Authorities are continuing to investigate what led to the fatal shooting.
On Thursday, News 6 spoke to De la Cerda’s uncle, who said the victim and his girlfriend tried to protect themselves from the suspect.
"Why, what's the reason? You know, to take someone else’s life just to be with someone else who doesn't want you anymore," Steve De la Cerda said. "Why take the life of someone that you know had nothing to do with the situation? So many unanswered questions right now for the family."
He said his nephew was young and in love, and that his parents tried warning him about how dangerous his situation could be.
"He was very close to his parents. His mom. His dad. They were aware of the situation but you know, a young man in love with a sweetheart, you know there's not much you can do to make him have a second thought," the victim's uncle said.
Chitwood said deputies had been to De la Cerda’s home several times regarding the threats made toward the couple and the injunctions they filed against Bender.
"A protective order is nothing but a piece of paper,” Chitwood said. In a case like this, it clearly shows that a piece of paper cannot protect anybody against a high powered rifle."
De la Cerda's uncle said his entire family is struggling to process his death since he was so young and just beginning his adult life. They said they’re confident the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office did everything they could to take Bender into custody.
"We're confident that he'll never see the light of day again,” Chitwood said.
This is a developing story. Stay with News 6 and ClickOrlando.com for updates.
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