The recent murders of three teens in Marion County became a national story. The young victims were found several miles from each other, but initially, it was not clear that the murders were linked to a single incident.
Two juveniles were arrested on Friday, April 7, in the March 30 killings of the three teens in the Oklawaha area of Marion County. One suspect, Tahj Brewton, 16, was captured on April 8 near Groveland with the assistance of U.S. Marshals and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. There was a $10,000 reward for his capture.
Brewton was arrested on outstanding warrants for carjacking with a firearm, aggravated assault, grand theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, and tampering with an electronic monitoring device. At this time, the homicide investigation is ongoing and additional charges are forthcoming.
The three suspects, Tahj Brewton, Christopher De’l Atkins, 12, and Robert Le’Andrew Robinson, 17, along with the three victims Layla Silvernail, 17, Camille Quarles, 16, and an unnamed 17-year-old male, were loosely associated and had been committing car burglaries together just prior to the killings.
Explaining the situation, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods stated at a press conference on April 7, “In simple terms, there is no honor among thieves, and at some point, these three individuals turned on the three victims and murdered them.” He also said that these juveniles were each associated with gangs, yet there is no evidence to point to gang rivalry as a motive for the shootings.
Silvernail was found with a gunshot wound to the head at 10:52 pm on March 30 at Forest Lakes Park on SE 183rd Avenue Road. She was still alive but died at the hospital. The next morning, the body of the 17-year-old boy was found at SE 94th Street and SE 188th Court, approximately four miles from where Silvernail was found. He also had been shot.
The body of Camille Quarles was recovered on April 1st at around 12:28 pm while investigators were following up on a tip. Deputies found Quarles inside the trunk of Silvernail’s vehicle, which was partially submerged in a small pond nine miles away from where Silvernail was found.
During the April 7 press conference, Sheriff Woods said that digital evidence and interviews suggested that Quarles was inside the trunk on her own accord when she was shot.
Robinson and Atkins confessed to killing Quarles. They obtained the weapons used in the shooting through vehicle burglaries. According to Sheriff Woods, a witness heard the gunshots (on March 30th), and that is when all three were killed. The suspects were in the vehicle.
Sheriff Woods stated that when the suspects fled the scenes, they left a lot of evidence in their wake. He credited numerous agencies for the success of the investigation so far, “Our law enforcement partners with the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, State Attorney Bill Gladson’s Office, FDLE, the Ocala Police Department, my deputies, detectives, and forensics professionals, and finally, our citizens who provided numerous tips all along the way.”
Sheriff Woods took the opportunity to discuss the circumstances that lead to this type of tragedy.
In opposition to a certain political position, he stated, “There are individuals out there viewing, including some of you media, that want to blame the one thing that has no ability or the capacity to commit the crime itself- and that’s the gun. These individuals committed the crime. What’s the solution? I wish I could give you the answer because this world would be a whole lot better. The fact is society fails it.”
He explained that society does not hold juveniles accountable. Referring to many in the media, he said that we minimize their actions by not publicly divulging the names and photos of juveniles who commit serious crimes.
“I’ve got a particular media that has a problem with putting photos of juveniles out. Now we do it because the law says we can do it- put these photos out.”
He said that one of the mothers stated, “I wish I would have known what this one was doing (pointing to the photos of the suspects) and who they were because my kid never would have hung out with them.”
“To minimize any actions that is (sic) criminal of a juvenile is a disservice and frankly stupid… We need to hold them accountable and then hope that we can change them,” Sheriff Woods remarked.
The majority of national and local news outlets chose not to carry the photos of the suspects arrested nor a photo of Brewton, the suspect law enforcement was still searching for. These outlets mentioned that law enforcement was still searching for a suspect without mentioning the suspect’s name or sharing the photo, which was shared on social media by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. The viewer was left with the impression that information about the suspect was not being shared when, in fact, the Sheriff was requesting that people share the photo of this wanted teenager.
“The law allows me – I will plaster their face (suspects) up on my page, up on media, hand it out if the law allows me. Because parents have a right to know who their kids are hanging out with and preventing this,” said Sheriff Woods.
The State Attorney’s Office is reviewing whether the suspects will be tried as adults.
“They took a life without thought. They deserve the full extent of the law,” Sheriff Woods said.
He also said that school districts across this state and across this nation need to stop minimizing the actions of their students. “Hold them accountable. That’s where the failure is.”
As these crimes are still under investigation, MCSO asks anyone with additional information to please call (352) 732-9111, or if you wish to remain anonymous can contact Crime Stoppers of Marion County at (352)368-STOP (7867) and reference 23-22 in your tip.