BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Deputies with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office are investigating after a fire in Brooksville left a woman and several animals dead on Friday.
While authorities haven't given the identity of the person killed, Sharon Schwindt's family tells 10 Tampa Bay's Angelina Salcedo that they're sure she was the one killed.
Her loss has left them with more questions than answers.
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you," Johnny Driscoll, one of the woman's children, said. "I love you and miss you."
Deputies say the woman's house went up in flames in the early morning hours on Jan. 20. Firefighters attacked the blaze for 90 minutes before finding Schwindt inside. Her German Shepards and several other animals were with her.
"I remember that they were walking slow when I first got here and all I know is I needed to save my mom," Driscoll said.
The sheriff's office is saying they are calling the incident a suspicious fire and that the cause is still unclear.
"I don't process it. It hits me every like third or fourth step, it feels like a sledgehammer hits my gut," Driscoll said.
Driscoll said he knows it's a suspicious fire and believes someone would have a motive to do something to her.
"It's very possible and there might be quite a few people," Driscoll said.
He said another concern is that someone in the Brooksville community wanted to harm his mother because she was outspoken and people who weren't supposed to be on her property wouldn't leave.
"She was one of a kind. She was loving. She was just in nature and loved her animals," Driscoll said. "If you ask anybody around here that knew her and was her friend, they'd know. Her main thing was bringing our family together, getting along, and letting the kids enjoy the beautiful nature out here."
While they wait for the mystery surrounding her death to be solved, Schwindt's children said they'll rebuild her animal sanctuary in her honor. It's a place for her family to heal.
"We wrote to our mom some messages in magic marker yesterday. Between the four of us, I think we'll do just fine. Justice will be served," Driscoll said.
The family is reaching out to the community to help with funeral arrangements and rebuilding the sanctuary. If you'd like to help, you can here. Driscoll is also encouraging people to reach out to him at 813-650-5537 if you have any information related to the fire.
As for the investigation, law enforcement said it is just getting started. As soon as we hear more from the sheriff's office, we'll update you.