Winter Haven, Florida - It is a crime nobody expected, in a place no one ever fears. The Chain of Lakes trail in Winter Haven is a highly-populated area where people walk their dogs and exercise. On any given day, you'll see people all over the trail enjoying the outdoors.
And you'll even see students.
Alicia Dorene Barnett was one of those young people using the trail to get to school. The 18-year-old was on her way to New Beginnings High School in Winter Haven on Monday morning.
Sadly, she would never make it to class.
Alicia was found murdered on the trail. Officers originally responded to a 911 call of a "medical emergency" Monday morning around 8 a.m. When they got there, they found the teenager on the pavement. Officers administered CPR, but it was too late. Alicia was gone.
"She was an amazing young lady. Not only did she have a positive attitude, but she was getting her life together. She was a joy," said the high school principal, Ashlee Wright. "We just can't believe it. We will have grief counselors for our students in the morning. We sent them home today."
Alicia had just moved to Polk County with her family from South Florida and was excited to get a "second chance" at her education, says the principal. New Beginnings is a charter school for at-risk students, where roughly 360 kids attend.
"Alicia was part of our family," said the principal.
As for the Winter Haven police chief, Gary Hester, he is in shock. The entire city has only had four murders all year. The crime rate here is certainly low, and the department is at an "all hands on deck" status with this crime.
"This occurred in broad daylight. People don't value life the way they used to," said Chief Hester during a news conference with the media on Monday.
Those who live just a few feet from the trail say they'll be looking over their shoulders. In fact, some say, they'll use the busy nearby road instead of taking the trail as a shortcut.
"I can't believe someone would kill an 18-year-old girl," said Deandre Williams. "Nothing like that ever happens here. Ever. Never."
Alicia's killer is still out there. If you know who committed this crime, please call Winter Haven Police.
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