Deacon found dead in smoking apartment

Family believes they know who did it, police have not confirmed suspects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 53-year-old man was found dead in his Northside home Tuesday afternoon after smoke was seen coming from the apartment, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Police said Andrew Jerome Stephens' daughter said she hadn't seen him in a couple of days and asked a maintenance worker to check on him about 2:30 p.m. at Oaks at Durkeeville, a public housing complex on Steele Court.

Investigators said the worker found the front door to be locked but the back door was not. They said he saw smoke coming from the apartment, then found the man dead inside.

Police said they do suspect foul play. They said the medical examiner will determine how Stephens died.

Stephens lived alone, according to police.

His children said he was the ultimate father, and two of his daughters said he had more than 10 children and that he would give the shirt off his back for each one of them.

He was a deacon at a local church, and his family said right now they're going through a lot of pain.

"It's shocking. You see it happen to others but never expect for it to happen to you," said Anita Stephens.

Anita can't believe her dad is gone. She said her father was a deacon at Pentecostal Church of God in Jacksonville for more than 30 years.

"He loved the Lord, he just loved him," she said. "He preached at his church. He was there for everybody."

Anita and the rest of Stephens' children said the pain won't begin to ease until whoever is responsible is arrested.

"Hurt, painful -- there's no feeling right now. It's just numb. It's just heart-sinking," said Anita.

The family told Channel 4 they believe they know who's responsible, but police haven't confirmed any suspects.

Anyone with any information about the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.