POLK CITY, Florida (WFLA) – A beloved librarian is in “severely critical condition” at a Florida hospital after deputies say a group of teenagers in a van intentionally ran her down as she tried to record their license plate after the teens attacked a student.
The librarian, identified by her employer as Suzette Penton, of Polk City, suffered a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones following the incident, according to an arrest affidavit.
“I think everybody is still in shell shock,” said Polk City city manager Patricia Jackson. “We’re heartbroken. We’re just here to do whatever we can to help them.”
Penton is described as a vibrant and caring librarian who does whatever she can to get kids in Polk City to pick up a new book, whether it’s with a new idea for a summer reading program or a new costume.
“She’s full of life. She loves kids. And she’s very passionate about the library,” said Jackson.
Jackson called Penton a “mama bear” who is fiercely protective of her kids.
Deputies said a group of teenagers, including Elijah Stansell, 18, showed up at a Polk City home Monday wanting to fight.
“I can understand her putting herself in harm’s way to protect her children,” she said.
“This was an ongoing dispute between a group of kids, via social media, texting. I think there was some verbal altercations at school. It has never risen to the level of physical violence,” said Carrie Horstman, public information officer, Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
The fighting between the group of teenagers and the boy living in the Polk City home stemmed from a romantic entanglement, Horstman said.
“One of the suspects directed the guy driving the van, the 18-year-old, exactly which house to go to. They targeted the teenager living in that house,” she said.
Security video shows the teenagers beating up the boy, deputies said.
Penton then confronted them outside.
Video shows her taking pictures of the van to show to law enforcement then the van running her over.
“They purposely and intentionally ran her over and critically injured her,” said Horstman. “They had ample opportunity and space to get out of that area as she stood there in the street to take pictures of them to give to law enforcement. Instead, they ran her down in the road.”
Deputies say Stansell was behind the wheel of the van.
A witness followed the van and called 911.
“I’m trying to stay back. I don’t know if these people have a gun. They just mowed that poor lady down,” said the 911 caller.
The van and the teenagers were found minutes later in Auburndale.
All four of them are facing attempted murder charges. The three other teenagers riding in the van are all minors and aren’t being publicly identified.
“All three of the other suspects saw him do it. They said ‘Hey man, stop.’ They’ve told our detectives this. ‘You ran her over, stop.’ He didn’t. They didn’t call 911 and report it. They’re fleeing along with him,” said Horstman.