homepage logo

Apparent homicide-suicide leaves Lehigh neighborhood stunned

By Staff | Jun 13, 2013

The residents of Fireside Court and Maple Avenue South, including surrounding streets not far from Joel Blvd. in Lehigh Acres, are still reeling from the news of the deaths of two people in a home at 216 Fireside Court on Monday night.

What is believed to have been a murder-suicide occurred in this quiet community of well-kept landscaped homes sometime close to 9 p.m. A call was made to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office which sent deputies to the address on Fireside Court. The call was received by the Sheriff’s Office at 8:51 p.m.

When deputies reached the residence, they said they surrounded the house and several witnesses ran outside and talked to the officers. One of the witnesses had been shot, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He was taken to the hospital and treated and released with minor injuries.

Officers said people were still inside the house. Nearby homes were evacuated and the street was blocked off. Deputies went to each house and told residents they would have to leave.

The Sheriff’s Office said that a male shooter was barricading himself in the home and there possibly was a hostage. But after evacuating nearby homes and streets, investigators said a special operations unit went into the home and found a man and a woman dead.

“The deputies were very nice to us,” said Elaine Montalbano, a resident down the street.

“They didn’t give us details of what was happening but told us we had to leave our homes,” she said.

“Later we found out that they thought they may have a hostage situation going on,” she said.

The two deceased people at the home were identified as Romie Franklin Jr., 50, and Laverne James, 48.

People in the neighborhood upon seeing several sheriff’s cars were in shock, said Montalbano.

“They all were running out of their houses to see what was happening. This is so different than the way our neighborhood is. People here know one another and help each other. They lookout for their neighbors,” she said.

The investigation at the home continued until late Wednesday and yellow police tape kept people out of the neighborhood , except for those who lived there.

Mary Speed, who knows the two people, said in news accounts that she couldn’t believe what had happened and was in shock over Laverne James’ death.

James and Franklin, an ex-boyfriend, had been arguing and that led to Franklin shooting his ex-girlfriend’s son, James, and then himself, according to the witness who was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

The man and woman had separated a year ago after being together for 15 years.

Speed added that her friend, Laverne James, never spoke of any problems she considered dangerous in their relationship.

However, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported that Romie Franklin Jr. had been arrested on battery charges in Lee County at least five times in the past 20 years.

In 2010, deputies were called to the couple’s home after a call reporting a domestic violence situation. It was reported that Romie Franklin Jr. threw a vase at his girlfriend’s daughter, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

James worked as a registered nurse for the Lee County Jail. She was employed by Corizon, a health care firm that provides medical personnel for jails and prisons. The company is headquarted in Nashville Tenn.

A statement was sent to Breeze Newspapers, including The Lehigh Acres Citizen, The Cape Coral Daily Breeze and other media that read:

“The Corizon family was deeply saddened to learn that one of our nurses was found deceased yesterday due to an incident that occurred in her home. Our deepest condolences are with the victim’s family during this difficult time, and we respectfully request that their privacy be respected as they mourn the loss of a loved one.”

The county medical examiner will make the exact cause of death known.

Elaine Montalbano, the neighbor down the street, said she felt bad for the kids in the home.

“It was such a shock. Things like that don’t happen here,” she said.