Police said Monday they were trying to find out why two British tourists were in a crime-ridden public housing complex late at night before they were fatally shot over the weekend, allegedly by a 16-year-old boy.
Sarasota Police Chief Mikal Holloway said investigators believe James M. Cooper, 25, and James Thomas Kouzaris, 24, had gone to the Newtown neighborhood voluntarily before they were killed early Saturday. The 16-year-old suspect was arrested about 24 hours later, but police won't say what evidence led to them to the teen.
The boy, who police have yet to identify, was being held in a juvenile facility. His mother and a public defender represented him in court Monday. Prosecutors have until May 8 to decide whether to charge him as an adult.
Officers responded to a 911 call at about 3 a.m. Saturday reporting a man had collapsed on the street and was bleeding. The other man was discovered lying across the street.
"The investigation is ongoing, and we do believe there are more facts that will be forthcoming that will help us with the investigation," Holloway said at a news conference Monday.
Holloway said police "have their suspicions" as to why the men were in the Newtown neighborhood north of downtown, "but at this time, it would be unfair to state those." The area where the men were killed is made up of low-slung cinder-block apartment buildings and is far removed from the beaches and other tourist attractions. It is known for its drug trade and crime, although officials say the crime rate there has dipped in recent years.
Cooper and Kouzaris had recently graduated from college and were on vacation in the United States, Holloway said. Multiple British press reports and Kouzaris' Facebook page indicated the two had attended the University of Sheffield together.
Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner said residents and visitors to Sarasota should expect to be safe in any neighborhood at any time of the day or night.
"It's a gut check for us as a community, with what we're doing and how we're dealing with the challenges we face, particularly in (that neighborhood)," Kirschner said of the city's first slayings of 2011.