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Deputies: Polk man held 5 hostage for months

Posted at 2:13 PM, May 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-17 14:54:46-04
A Polk County man is accused of holding a man and four children hostage in their own home for three months, threatening them with a shotgun and stealing the man’s disability checks.
 
Larry Gene Howard, 29, of Haines City was arrested Monday while hiding from law enforcement in a crawl space under the victim’s home, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
 
Howard first met the victims while visiting their home with a distant relative of the family, according to an arrest report. The victim lived in the home with his nieces and nephews, ages 6, 7, 11 and 13.
 
The arrest report says Howard later came back to the home with four children and told the victim they were all
 homeless. When the victim told them he didn’t have enough room for them to stay, Howard is accused of pointing a shotgun at him and telling him he was going to “lay down the rules.”
 
Howard let his girlfriend, Hanna Wright, move into the home, the report says. 
 
In April, Department of Children and Families officials and law enforcement came in search of Howard and his four children, the report says. DCF took his children. Howard, meanwhile, went undetected while hiding under the home.
 
Howard kept the victim’s cellphone in order to keep him from calling for help, the report says.
 
The suspect learned the victim received a monthly disability payment of $718, the report says. In the first month of the imprisonment, Howard forced the man to withdraw all his money from an ATM machine in Davenport. The victim’s nieces and nephews stayed behind with the suspect’s girlfriend.
 
Howard also cut a hole in the floor in case he had to hide from law enforcement, covering it with a “trap door.”
 
In the second month, Howard told the victim to get into truck driven by William Stargel, identified in the report as a co-defendant. The children stayed behind with the suspect, the report says, while Stargel drove the victim to an ATM to withdraw his disability money.
 
He did it again the third month, telling the victim to go with an unidentified man and woman, the report says. The victim took out only $200, which angered Howard. He forced him to return to get the remaining money.
 
On Monday, Howard is accused of holding a gun to the victim’s head and telling him he was going to die and, later, said “something was going down today,” the report says.
 
The victim told his nieces and nephews to sneak out, the report says. He went with them and called deputies from a neighbor’s home.
 
Howard faces five counts of armed false imprisonment, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, grand theft and resisting an officer without violence.
 
The suspect also faces a charge of hate crime. The report says he learned of the victim’s sexual orientation and called him homosexual slurs while battering him.