BARTOW, Fla. - Polk County deputies said an argument between a 31-year-old suspect and the father of the underage girl he was dating led up to a deadly shooting on Friday morning.
Deputies responded to a home in the area of Transport Road and Spruce Road in Bartow around 5:49 a.m. Friday. They said the victim, a white man, was found dead inside the residence. He will not be identified due to Marsy’s Law, according to the sheriff’s office.
Polk County deputies said the shooting is still in the early stages of the investigation, but it appears the suspect, identified as Raul De Alejandro Rodriguez Jr., and the victim were arguing about the suspect dating the victim’s daughter, who Sheriff Grady Judd said is 17 years old.
According to the sheriff, De Alejandro Rodriguez met the victim's daughter because he was her father's drug dealer.
Investigators said Rodriguez walked into the victim's mobile home early Friday morning with what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun and ordered the victim out of his bedroom and into the living room.
A female witness in the home heard the two arguing in the living room before she heard a gunshot. Investigators later determined the victim had been shot once in the chest at what the sheriff said was "near point-blank range."
"He was dangerous, he was violent, he was a drug dealer, he did what he wanted," Sheriff Judd said. "He fought and argued with our victim, and this morning he goes into the house at gunpoint and takes him out of the bedroom and summarily executes him."
The witness in the home called 911, and deputies set up a perimeter in the area. The sheriff's office aviation unit spotted De Alejandro Rodriguez leaving his residence, which was two blocks away from the victim's home, and going to his mother's house where he got into a black Chrysler 300 and drove away. That's when deputies took him into custody.
As they arrested the suspect, deputies said they found a shotgun shell in his pocket and another in a bag.
The sheriff said investigators encountered difficulties while processing the crime scene.
"When we went there with our search warrant, we had to fight our way in with two different cans of wasp spray," Judd said. "This place was unbelievable. You go into this mobile home and you find big gaping holes in the floor, no glass in the windows, wasp nests growing throughout the living and kitchen area. You find grass and flowers growing out of and from the roof of this place. It is unbelievable. You would look at that absent people being there and say it's absolutely uninhabitable, and people were living in there."
According to the sheriff, deputies had originally begun investigating De Alejandro Rodriguez back in January after receiving a tip about a 16-year-old girl in a sexual relationship with an adult.
Investigators learned that between September and December of 2020, the then-16-year-old girl, who then turned 17, was having a consensual sexual relationship with De Alejandro Rodriguez.
But when the sheriff's office began its investigation, the teen and her mother both refused to cooperate, despite detectives making contact multiple times.
"We're praying that as a result of this horrible event, that maybe the 17-year-old's mom and the 17-year-old will say, ‘Gosh, if we had cooperated in January, he [the shooting victim] would be alive so at least let’s cooperate now," the sheriff said.
The suspect's prior criminal history consists of six felony and eight misdemeanor arrests, with charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, drug possession, hit and run and DUI.
De Alejandro Rodriguez is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed burglary with a firearm, tampering with a witness, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. The sheriff's office says additional charges are possible.