ORLANDO — There could be a chill running through the minds of some residents of downtown Orlando today.
It’s not that a single high-profile criminal case — the arrest by Orlando Police homicide detectives of Stephen Michael Duxbury on Friday in the murder or Sasha Samsudean — is likely to scare people away from downtown.
There have been other crimes in downtown Orlando, some briefly high-profile, others quickly forgotten. But that’s the case with major cities across not just Florida, but the nation. Orlando does not have the same reputation for crime and violence that other major cities, including Chicago, have been struggling with this year.
And ask anyone who lives in the region, or frequently visits Orlando, and most will say they feel safe downtown, including at night. The SunRail trains bring visitors to four stops in downtown, and crowds flock to the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Orlando Citrus Bowl without incident. They see theatrical productions at Mad Cow Theatre, and dine at the restaurants along Orange Avenue and Wall Street Plaza, check out the region’s history at the Orange County Regional History Center, and bring the nightclubs like The Social to life at night.
The murder of Samsudean was a shockingly violent crime, but an arrest was quickly made. Samsudean was found strangled in her North Orange Avenue apartment on Oct. 17, and the arrest was made on Oct. 30.
This is not likely to be a case that leaves tourism officials feeling nervous — a far cry from, for example, the brutal carjacking and murder of two German tourists in the Miami area in 1993 that state leaders feared would send a horrific message to international visitors that it wasn’t safe to travel here.
The real chill this morning, following all the news reports about Duxbury’s arrest, is likely to be felt by those living in those newly built downtown Orlando apartment and condo buildings.
There’s been an increasing number of high-end residential units being built in downtown, as a fast-growing number of people — particularly 20-somethings — flock to the excitement of an urban lifestyle. It’s likely many of them feel safe walking to Lake Eola Park after dark.
Now they need to feel safe where they live — in their own apartment or condo.
On Friday, detectives arrested Duxbury, 33, on charges of first degree murder, sexual battery and burglary to an occupied dwelling. The case started when friends of the victim notified police on Oct. 17 that they couldn’t reach her. She was last reported to have spent the evening of Oct. 16 with friends in downtown.
Officers got into her apartment and found her body in her bed.
On Friday, detectives say physical evidence tied Duxbury to the murder, and he was taken into custody in Volusia County by the U.S. Marshals Service and transported to the Volusia County Jail.
Outside of the brutality of the murder itself, what is most horrifying about the arrest is that Duxbury was a security officer at the Uptown Place Apartments, where Samsudean lived.
And that’s the part of this case likely to chill so many living in those downtown units.
The case is certain to prompt every apartment or condo complex to do an instant re-evaluation of their security policies. The notion that a security officer, hired to protect the residents of a building, could be charged with a crime so terrifying is positively mind-boggling. Both the managers of these residential buildings, and the private security firms they contract with, should start the background check process all over again for each and every person they employee.
That doesn’t mean someone with an entirely clean record can’t, to put it mildly, shock everyone by going “wrong.” It’s not clear yet if there was anything in Duxbury’s background to indicate anything suspicious, and he is, of course, fully presumed innocent until proven guilty. An arrest is not a conviction.
Still, as Orlando moves forward on the construction of new residential buildings to meet the seemingly insatiable desire for a downtown lifestyle, the question of safety and security at these buildings is likely to become an issue that gets a great deal on heightened scrutiny in the days and months ahead.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..