SAN ANTONIO - Robert Luffman sat in the driver's seat of his red, flatbed truck, slowly motoring south on Pompanic Street. He stopped, arm resting on the window of his truck, and looked out to Lake Jovita. At the edge of the lake investigators from the FBI as well as the Hernando and Pasco county sheriff's offices were wrapping up an exhaustive search for what they hoped was evidence linked to the 20-year-old unsolved slaying of 12-year-old Jennifer Odom. "Everybody's wishing they could find who did it," said Luffman, a lifelong Pasco resident.
A recent tip led investigators to a section of the lake behind a house at 12714 Pompanic St. in San Antonio, said Denise Moloney, spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. The tip, which Moloney said referred to "one fairly large item," was considered a possible connection to the February 1993 homicide. Authorities began searching the lake Tuesday and returned Wednesday morning. They stopped searching about 2 p.m. Wednesday after finding nothing of evidentiary value. Two Pasco sheriff's office boats and FBI sonar equipment were used in the search. A Pasco dive team worked with FBI divers from Miami and Virginia. There was no visibility in the lake, forcing divers to use their hands and the sonar equipment to find their way in the murky water. Odom went missing on Feb.19, 1993, when a school bus dropped her off near her home on Jim Denny Road near Dade City. Her body was found six days later in an orange grove on Powell Road in Hernando County. "It scared people, I know," Luffman said. "Everybody was really nervous for quite a while. Things got back to normal. Seems like after a period of time people forget about it, but a lot of people haven't forgot it and they would like to see whoever done it get their due." The tip brought an unexpected spotlight to the usually sleepy town of San Antonio. Of the 17 homes currently on Pompanic Street, seven did not exist when Odom went missing. The street once was described as so narrow, drivers had to pull over to let another car pass before a recent expansion of the road. Across the lake, the development of Lake Jovita, a project of about 900 homes on more than 1,000 acres, had not broken ground in 1993. Mary Epperson remembers that time. Back then she lived about four miles away near King Lake off Curley Road. Her children went to Weightman Middle School, the same school as Jennifer Odom. Jennifer spent many afternoons on Lake Jovita, swimming and barefoot waterskiing, Epperson said. "It affected the community in that it rocked us. It shook us up. It made us feel like you can't leave your kid in your own driveway anymore," Epperson said. "Just like the (stone) at Weightman. They had a stone put there that said 'Never Walk Alone.' It kind of made us feel that, 'Wow, you can't even leave your kid at the end of your driveway. You gotta drive to the end of the driveway, watch them get on the bus and then watch them come home.' It hit that close to home." Moloney said the case is one that has haunted both counties and members of law enforcement. "It's extremely important because this one is rather heinous," Moloney said. "A 12-year-old kidnapped on her way home from school; that just doesn't sit right with cops, with the community, with parents, with anybody." That sentiment was echoed by Luffman. "Somebody like that, they're subhuman," he said. email@example.com (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTBO