ST. CLOUD — The AK-47 attack in one of Osceola County's oldest neighborhoods last month is the latest crime jarring the tranquil image of the century-old community known as "Soldier City," where Civil War veterans settled in the early 1900s.
In just seven days last summer, St. Cloud police investigated the suspicious death of a 16-year-old runaway, the killings of two brothers outside a popular bar and the death of a woman linked to an Orlando street gang in a shootout with police.
Police have found no clear pattern to the crimes — plus 20 drug-dealing arrests the same week — other than many involved unemployed young men.
But the suspect in the AK-47 attack, 18-year-old David Penney, doesn't fit that image.
Described as bright but reclusive, Penney was enrolled at Valencia College, according to police. He also filed papers in October with the Florida Department of State to open his own firearms-accessory business, Lock Enkey Industries LC, records show.
And unlike scores of defendants relying on court-appointed lawyers, the teen's family has hired Winter Park attorney Warren Lindsey, a partner in one of Central Florida's top criminal-defense law firms.
Penney's mother, Joy Penney-Wietor, works as a guidance counselor for the Osceola County School District. His father, Allen Penney, worked as a general contractor in South Florida before moving to Arkansas recently. Neither responded to written requests by the Sentinel to discuss their son.
But after the attack, his mother told detectives that Penney suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a condition associated with poor social skills, lack of empathy and above-average intelligence.
In the early-morning hours Nov. 21, Penney left his home in military-style camouflage clothing and walked more than a mile through darkened neighborhoods with two AK-47s and five or six 30-shot banana clips, according to police.
Shortly before 2a.m., he knocked on the door of a house on Alabama Avenue and called out, "Your son wrecked my car and ruined my life," before firing at least 34 bullets into the cinder-block walls, according to police.
Walking slowly down the street, police say, Penney continued firing until a patrol car carrying officers Spencer Endsley and Clinton Wise came into view. That's when he riddled the vehicle until Wise, hit once in a foot, returned fire as both officers dove for cover, according to authorities.
"This was a very disturbed young man as far as his viewpoints were concerned," St. Cloud police Chief Pete Gauntlett said of a six-page manifesto and suicide note found in Penney's bedroom along with files showing extensive research on fatal confrontations with police. "Part of it was to go out in a blaze of glory."
Rather than surrender, the teen tried to kill himself by firing his 95th shot of the night upward under his chin, according to police. The bullet split his face, apparently without causing brain damage, according to police.
He spent more than four weeks under guard at Orlando Regional Medical Center — where he underwent reconstructive surgery — before being released last week. Penney remains held without bail in the Osceola County Jail on four counts of attempted murder and 21 more charges.
One of the injured officers, Endsley, continues to receive treatment for his gunshot wound. Wise has returned to work despite glass fragments still lodged his face, one eye and an arm.
The apparent target of Penney's rage was Michael Murray Jr., 20, who lives in the apartment on Alabama Avenue with his father and brother, according to police and interviews. The residence has been linked by arrest reports to gun dealing, drugs and burglaries. In one six-month period, police responded there 20 times to handle a range of criminal complaints, court records show.
Penney blamed Murray for crashing his car in early September when they and two friends were driving to shoot at targets in Narcoossee, according to police and interviews. Murray did not help pay for the damage, reports indicate, and Penney told friends he spent money to buy a new vehicle that he had saved to start his business.
"The car crash has almost become a nonissue," Gauntlett said. "It was an excuse to institute his plans."
In late September, Penney attended a gun show in Kissimmee's Osceola Heritage Park. At 18 years old, state law allowed him to buy as many rifles or shotguns as he could afford without a waiting period.
At a display offered by Diavolo Arms of east Orange County, Penney paid $1,149.90 for two AK-47s, according to police.
Upon leaving the show, Penney stopped to talk with Kissimmee attorney Ernie Mullins, who was gathering signatures on a petition to run for county judge.
The teen asked questions about government and spoke about Americans' right to bear arms.
"It just struck me as odd that someone so young could come out carrying two assault weapons yet couldn't buy a beer," Mullins told the Sentinel. "He looked 15 years old."
During the next two months, records show, Penney bought 100 rounds of AK-47 ammunition and a 30-shot every week or two from Signal Zero, a St. Cloud gun shop. Penney told owner Ted Smith he was going target shooting.
"He was always nice," said Smith, a retired St. Cloud police officer. "He never acted strange."
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