Last Updated: 3:30 p.m.
Either Monday night or Tuesday morning, William Merrill, 32, was reportedly inspecting a rifle at his home at 94 Covington Lane in Palm Coast when his weapon went off. His 30-year-old wife Stefanie Merrill was struck in the chest and killed. The incident was reported to the sheriff’s office at 9:17 this morning.
Flagler County Sheriff’s Office detectives, including a K-9 unit, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were at the scene, investigating what the sheriff’s office is calling a suspicious incident.
Eva Larsson has been a neighbor, in a house across the street from 94 Covington, for the past nine years. She had gone to work around 9 a.m. this morning, returned home around lunch. She came out of the house to the sound of a news helicopter above and the sight of cop cars lining Covington, unaware, and wondering what had happened. She broke down in tears when she was told, stunned.
“I talk to them all the time. I talked to them not long ago,” Larsson said, remembering seeing them Sunday. “Oh, this is awful.” She said the family was renting the house for the past year or so. (The owners of the house live in Harrisburg, Penn. They built the house in 1990.) “The man is an excellent person. It must be an accident.”
“He was always out here with his kids, he was a really nice guy,” Kandy Dauvenspeck, another neighbor and resident in the area for the past nine years, said. “Real nice kids, real nice dad.”
William Merrill is reportedly a car dealer at a Daytona Beach dealership near I-95. The sheriff’s office was terming the shooting “suspicious” possibly because of Merrill’s prior record. In 2007, Merrill was arrested and jailed in Flagler County on charges of grand theft, use or display of a weapon during the commission of a felony, and probation violation.
The red-tile-roofed, 2,100-square-foot house sits on a large corner lot as Covington curves past Chelsea Court, its yard much larger than most in the area. A tire swing hangs from two pine trees near the edge of the lot. The well-kept back-yard and back porch are a picture of middle-class comforts: large barbecue grill, wicker furniture under a (stilled) ceiling fan–table, four chairs–lots of children’s toys, among them a pink jeep and a skateboard (with handle), a yellow beach bucket.
The couple has two young children: a 3-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. The family owns an American bulldog that was often seen in the backyard with the children. Palm Coast Animal Control took in the dog for the duration of the investigation.
Flagler County Emergency Medical personnel pronounced Mrs. Merrill dead at the scene, a spokeswoman for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office said. The medical examiner arrived at the scene at 1:07 p.m.
The investigation was continuing at mid-afternoon Tuesday.
[This is a developing story.]