PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Three men are wanted by St. Johns County deputies after a home invasion robbery Monday night that prompted an Amber Alert.
A 16-year-old the men brought to the home at gunpoint during the robbery, who deputies considered a possible kidnapping victim, was found safe Tuesday afternoon. An Amber Alert had been issued for Marcus Anthony Hatch, but he was found in Jacksonville in good health, deputies said.
Investigators are still searching for the three armed men who held a couple and their roommate hostage for hours at an apartment in the Soleil complex on Great Harbor Way in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Brandon Giannuzzi told News4Jax that he and his girlfriend were in their apartment as the sun was setting Monday when someone knocked on the door. He said he opened it and two gunmen stormed in, held them at gunpoint and took everything they had.
“I'm 23 years old. I'm trying to make it, and everything got taken,” Giannuzzi said. “We live in Ponta Vedra. You don't expect that, you know?”
A third armed man came in later, holding Hatch at gunpoint. Giannuzzi said he recognized Hatch as a friend of a friend.
During the robbery, Giannuzzi's roommate showed up at the apartment.
“I'm glad we all made it out,” Giannuzzi said. “When the roommate came home, they shoved a gun in his mouth, saying they were going to kill him. That was scary.”
The men tied up Giannuzzi, his girlfriend and their roommate and left with Hatch, still being held at gunpoint, in the couple's car.
Giannuzzi said the three of them worked to get free to call for help.
“They put three chairs next to each other and tied all of us up. They put a knife on my lap and said count to 1,000 and then cut yourself,” Giannuzzi said. “As soon as I heard the door close, I got myself out without the knife. Got all them out, and I saw them driving away.”
Deputies said investigators got a tip about Hatch's location, and they found him safe. He is being interviewed by investigators about the incident. Deputies have not confirmed whether he was kidnapped.
Not random robbery?
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said it's unlikely the home invasion was random.
He said it's more likely the victims were targeted.
"It could have been that they tried to force him to give up a location of someone who may have had money, may have had property that he knows," Smith said.
He said the information the victims were able to provide deputies will be essential in the case.
"They did good by providing that information to police because the more information they can provide, the more it helps the investigation and possibly apprehending the suspects," Smith said.
Neighbors in the complex were shocked to learn of the robbery and Amber Alert.
“This is kind of tucked away, so you have to know where you're going to get here. That's the thing,” Mark Hoadley said. “It's unexpected to wake up and see this.”
Hoadley said he's surprised neighbors didn't hear anything and call for complex security.
"There is an on-site officer that you could call and he's usually there within two minutes," Hoadley said.
Car, suspects still sought
The stolen car and the three armed men are still being sought by deputies.
The stolen vehicle is a 2009 Grey Subaru Legacy with Florida “Air Force” tag AKN6Z. The hubcaps are silver except for the front passenger wheel and there are scratches on the driver's side rear door. There is a middle finger sticker and a sticker that says "Thrasher" on the back of the vehicle.
"Often in these cases, especially when they are local, they will find the vehicle abandoned somewhere because every law enforcement officer in the state is looking for that car, so they are going to want to get away from it," Smith said.
Deputies released images of a person of interest in the case who was driving a white Jeep Grand Cherokee. Deputies said the man was connected to the investigation because he used a credit card stolen from the residence at two gas stations -- one in Ponte Vedra and another in the Arlington area of Jacksonville. Deputies said the do not believe the man was at the home during the robbery.
The three armed men in the home invasion are described as being in their 20s. Deputies released the following descriptions of the men:
Suspect 1: Dark skinned black man, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, with light facial hair and dreadlocks approximately 4-5 inches long and woven into 12 to 18 pony tails with beads. He was also identified as having four silver caps on his top four teeth (a silver grill). He was last seen wearing a red hoodie and black sweat pants with dark gym shorts underneath, and answered to the name “Trey” at the residence.
Suspect 2: Light skinned black man, 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. He was wearing a camo jacket with a tan cargo vest and tan cargo pants with multiple pockets. He also had dark shorts under his pants and wore dark “Vans” style shoes and a black and white beanie cap.
Suspect 3: Light skinned black man, 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 180 to 190 pounds with a tattoo near the corner of his eye. He was last seen wearing a camo jacket with blue jeans, black Jordan style shoes with red soles and a black beanie cap.