PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – St. Johns County detectives spanned out across two counties Wednesday, tracking down leads in a violent home invasion in Ponte Vedra Beach on Tuesday morning that prompted an Amber Alert for a 16-year-old boy.
The Sheriff's Office announced that it had identified a man who is considered to be a person of interest in the home invasion, but has not yet released his name. Investigations said they are still searching for additional suspects and they are keeping some critical information about the crime to themselves as they try to solve the crime.
Deputies said the three robbers brought the teenager at gunpoint to the Soleil Apartments on Great Harbor Way, kept a couple and their roommate hostage for hours and left them tied up. The boy, Marcus Hatch, who deputies considered a possible kidnapping victim, was found safe Tuesday afternoon.
One of the victims, 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 Ponte Vedra. You don't expect that, you know?”
Giannuzzi suspected the teenager that was with the robbers was involved.
"One of my good friends, I guess his friend set it up," Giannuzzi said. "He came in and acted like he had no part, but we know he had a part in that."
A third armed man came in later, holding Hatch at gunpoint. Giannuzzi said he recognized Hatch as a friend of a friend.
"One of my good friends, I guess his friend set it up. He came in and acted like he had no part, but we know he had a part in that," Giannuzzi said.
During the robbery, Giannuzzi's roommate showed up at the apartment. 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 and call 911.
"They put guns to our heads; made us sit the (expletive) on the couch; told us not to move or they'll kill us for four hours," the caller told the 911 operator. "Then our roommate came home, they put a gun in his mouth, hit him over the head with a gun, took all our s***, took my car, everything. We just got robbed for everything, money, everything."
Giannuzzi explained how they got loose.
“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 early Tuesday afternoon. He was interviewed by investigators about the incident. Deputies have not confirmed whether he was kidnapped.
Crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said investigators will try to determine if Hatch knew the robbers and if he was a victim or was possibly involved.
"Through the investigation, they'll try to determine what kind of relationship Hatch had with the other suspects," Smith said. "It could have been if they try to force him to give up a location of someone (that he knows) who may have had money, may have had property."
People who live in the Soleil Apartments said the situation didn't add up and seems strange.
"I haven't seen too much about it, but it doesn't make any sense," resident Matt Quinlan said.
"We've never had anything like that happen here," Mark Hoadley said. "I've been here, it will be four years in May, and it's been a real great neighborhood."
News4Jax has attempted to contact Hatch, but have not been successful.
Car, suspects still sought
The stolen vehicle is a 2009 gray 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, who was later identified, 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 they 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.