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Slaying leaves Central Beach residents shaken

(Week of November 24, 2011)
Kristen Judge Simpson comforted by family friends during Jaycee Park vigil for husband Brian Simpson

Richard Rogers finished his glass of wine at the Vero Beach Yacht Club and headed on foot to his Central Beach home on Indian River Drive.  By all accounts, Thursday was a good day and equally good night, he thought. That feeling of tranquility didn’t last long.

Just as life was starting to return to normal and Central Beach residents were beginning to let their guard down after a spate of neighborhood break-ins, the unthinkable occurred:  a burglary that ended in murder.

“Lock your doors. Turn all your lights on and stay in the house – something bad has happened,”   a neighbor told Laurie Armour of Holly Drive early Thursday evening.

The next morning Amour and other Central Beach residents woke up to crime-scene tape blocking Fiddlewood Road and police vehicles all over their neighborhood.

The crime was jarring.

A burglar had shot to death an island neighbor – a father of two who kept a meticulous yard and doted over his children and their achievements – when he returned to his home early Thursday evening.

Brian Simpson was gunned down just 10 days before what would have been the 19th anniversary of his wedding to Kristen Judge Simpson. The couple, both swimmers, had met in high school in Canton, Ohio, and both got athletic scholarships to the University of West Virginia.

Nearly 500 people turned out Sunday at Jaycee Park and lined the boardwalk for about 250 yards in an impromptu memorial for Simpson.

Many people on the boardwalk carried candles and Kristen Simpson was swamped by grieving friends and neighbors.

“Can you imagine shooting down someone like that,” said one woman to a friend, “and leaving a family without a father.”

“As you know, this family has been through a tremendous trauma the last few days,” said Pastor Cliff Melvin of Christ by the Sea Church United Methodist Church. He said God surrounds the Simpson family in “this time of great need.”

Simpson was a salesman at Central Window for 14 years. 

“We are sick about this,” said Wendy Labadie of the family-owned business. “We are just beside ourselves to think that there is someone out there that took his life.  He was only 41-years-old. He has two young kids and a wife.”

“I just cannot believe this happened in our neighborhood,” Armour said.

Armour’s dogs thwarted a would-be burglar last month when the area was hit by 11 break-ins in just a few days, two of which involved entry of a home while the residents were sleeping.

At the time,  Armour and others in Central Beach spoke of the need for police to rein in the thief or thieves before someone got killed.

Armour was reminded of that conversation a day after Simpson was killed.

“It is just the saddest thing in the world to have his life taken like this,” she said, noting she is still stunned by Simpson’s death.

People in Central Beach, Armour included, are also upset that the fabric of the tree-shaded neighborhood they have loved for years is now torn by fear after the unthinkable:  a home invasion turned homicide – crimes generally associated with places like Fort Pierce, not quaint Central Beach.

“People are really upset,” said Annie Rogers. “Just the idea that you have to lock yourself inside the house all day long now.”

Her husband agreed. “I just cannot believe this,” Richard Rogers said.  “This is Central Beach. We’re not John’s Island. ...The Moorings. This is working class here, and people are scared out of their wits.”

Vero Beach police were guarded about how much information they had gathered other than to say they found Simpson suffering from gunshot wounds when officers entered the house after neighbors called 911 to report loud noises.

Police blocked off the street Friday with crime-scene tape. Divers also searched an area in the Indian River on Friday near the Vero Beach Yacht Club, apparently looking for a weapon.

“I had to sit down, I was really taken back by it,” said City Council member Jay Kramer of his reaction when he learned a neighbor and friend through various youth swimming programs over the years was dead.

Kramer, who lives on Tradewinds Drive, said he’s seen a larger presence of Vero Beach police since the burglaries started in late October.

Police, too, say they stepped up patrols but refused to say by how many officers.  Police also refused to provide crime statistics within city limits on the barrier island, stating they were strapped for manpower.

Vero Beach police say the last island homicide they worked was in the mid-1990s.

“I don’t know what to do, but something definitely needs to be done,” said Rogers. Others agreed.

“There is something that is really screwed up here. This neighborhood is really being hit hard by thieves. And now this. This is absolutely tragic,” said one Central Beach resident who asked not to be identified. “The cops keep promising and promising to step up patrols. Well, I haven’t seen a cop around here until this.”