OCALA, Fla. – A deadly shooting that left three teens dead last week in Marion County was the result of gang-affiliated juveniles turning on their own, according to Sheriff Billy Woods, who at a news conference Friday attributed the killings in part to failures of society.
“There are individuals out there viewing, and to include some of you media, who want to blame the one thing that has no ability or the capacity to commit the crime itself, and that’s the gun. These individuals committed the crime. So what’s the solution? I wish I could give you that answer because this world would be a whole lot better. But the fact is, society fails it. We do not hold our juveniles accountable. We minimize their actions,” Woods said. “...School districts across the state and across this nation need to quit minimizing the actions of their students. Hold them accountable. That’s where the failure is.”
Investigators located the three victims throughout the Ocklawaha area within days of each other, finding the first lying injured on the side of the road March 30 — identified as Layla Silvernail, 16, who later died at a hospital — a male juvenile found dead of an apparent gunshot wound on March 31, lying on the side of a road not far by, and a female juvenile found April 1 who had also been shot and was located in the trunk of a sedan partially submerged in a pond.
Investigators said the vehicle, a Chevrolet Cruze that belonged to Silvernail, carried six individuals at the time of the shooting: the three victims and three suspects.
Two of the suspects were identified as Robert Robinson, 17, and Christopher Atkins, 12, who both face first-degree murder charges. Robinson was arrested by Ocala police the morning after the murder following an “affray” at school, already in custody at a juvenile holding facility, and Atkins was arrested Thursday at his house via a search warrant, according to the sheriff’s office.
A third boy is still at large — Tahj Brewton, 16 — though Woods said the teen posed no further threat to the community. However, deputies said the teen should still be considered armed and dangerous.
The sheriff’s office announced Friday that a $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Brewton’s arrest.
“I’m talking to the viewers. You- some of you know him (Brewton), you know where he is and you need to turn him in. Now, I will get him, I will find him and justice will be completed,” Woods said.
Robinson and Atkins both allegedly confessed to shooting the girl who was found in the trunk, according to Woods.
“They took a life. Are y’all comprehending that? They took a life without thought. They deserve the full extent of the law,” Woods said.
We caught up with Sheriff Woods at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ nearby news conference to ask for more specifics regarding the 12-year-old and his involvement.
“His involvement definitely, as far as I could tell you, is that he shot the third victim, who (was) in the trunk of the car,” Woods said.
Regarding the activities taking place before the shooting, Woods said the group had engaged in burglaries and robberies.
“Although we had out there that it was gang-related, we have nothing specific to say that it was any rivalry,” Woods said. ”...However, each and every one of them in some shape or form is associated with a gang. Basically, simple terms, there is no honor among thieves, and at some point these three individuals turned on our three victims and murdered them.”
When asked how the minors obtained the weapons used in the shooting, Woods said that the two arrested had acquired theirs through car burglaries, eliciting a a murmur from the crowd.
“’Mm.’ Yeah, ‘Mm.’ Ain’t that right?” Woods said, imitating the noise. “All the gun laws we got in place didn’t prevent it, did it? Neither will any new ones, because here’s the fact: the bad guy is going to get a gun no matter what law you have put in place, these juveniles shouldn’t even possess a handgun, but they did.”
Other details such as the exact number of weapons used in the shooting could not be shared Friday given how the third suspect was still on the run, according to Woods.
Woods credited the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Marshals and Ocala police for help in the case.
See the news conference again in the media player below:
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office released an image of the vehicle that three teens found shot to death were believed to be in before they were killed.
In a Facebook video posted Wednesday, Sheriff Billy Woods shared a photo of a white Chevrolet Cruze that belonged to 16-year-old Layla Silvernail, who was found on the side of the road Thursday last week in the area of the Forest Lakes Park neighborhood on SE 183rd Avenue Road. She was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where she later died, according to the sheriff’s office.
The following morning, a 17-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, was found shot to death less than a mile away, near SE 94th Street and SE 188th Court.
The sheriff’s office said another teen, a 16-year-old girl, was found dead with a gunshot wound on Saturday in the Chevrolet Cruze, which was partially submerged near Malauka Loop and Malauka Loop Trace.
Woods said the three victims were friends and were “together leading up to the incident itself.” In an interview with CNN, the sheriff said the teens were believed to be in the car, but he did not say whether they were all shot at the same time.
The sheriff’s office confirmed to News 6 there are more than two suspects. The sheriff’s office also said it is believed the suspects drove off in the vehicle from the location the first teen was found.
In the interview with CNN, the sheriff said there are “good leads to a couple suspects that hopefully will lead us to an arrest.”
“We have a pretty good idea at some point in the investigation when evidence, testimony, witnesses -- all that begins to line up, and we’re confident that an arrest will be forthcoming,” he said.
He said the vehicle was seen in the area of Forest Lakes Park near SE 93rd Place and SE 183rd Avenue Road on Thursday, March 30, around 10:40 p.m. Then, the car was found at 1 p.m. near Malauka Loop and Maluaka Loop Trace.
Woods told News 6 on Thursday said witnesses saw the white Chevrolet Cruze near the area where Silvernail’s body was found.
“They heard gunshots then witnessed and saw the victim’s vehicle slowly drive into a dumpster. This is where our first victim’s body was out on the ground and then the vehicle left the scene very rapidly,” Woods said.
“I also mentioned that one of the key pieces of evidence, which we have, is we have surveillance video that depicts our victim’s car just moments prior to the event and the moment just after the event,” he added.
He urged people to call in with any tips or information.
“Somebody has seen something, somebody has been around. Not only if they saw something, if they got, if they live in the neighborhood that have like Ring cameras on the exterior of their homes, if they have any of that reach out to us,” Woods said.
Earlier this week, the sheriff said a tip was being investigated that the deaths were possibly tied to “hybrid gang” activity.
“There’s information that we’re being given that there’s a possibility of hybrid gangs, and that’s about it. I can’t tell you who’s associated, what gangs associated with or anything like that,” he said.
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