Florida Mom-of-Two Slain in ‘Nightmare’ Killing Spree was Shot in Front of Her Toddler Son

Florida Mom-of-Two Slain in ‘Nightmare’ Killing Spree was Shot in Front of Her Toddler Son
Char Adams

A Florida mother killed in an alleged week-long murder spree was found mortally wounded by her mother in front of her toddler son, PEOPLE confirms.

Kayla Crocker, 28, was the final victim in a string of slayings allegedly committed by William Boyette and Mary Rice.

Now, as Rice faces charges in Crocker’s death, Crocker’s sister is speaking out about the horror of the discovery, when her mother found her sister bound and suffering from a gunshot wound to the head in front of her 2-year-old son’s crib. (The account of her death was corroborated by a police report obtained by PEOPLE.)

“They had tied her up by her wrist and they had tied around her waist,” Laura Cipriano tells PEOPLE.

“They had pulled out chunks of her hair. … My mom remembered seeing clumps of hair around her.”

Crocker’s toddler son was unharmed in the shooting, police confirm.

Police had been searching for Boyette, 44, and 38-year-old Rice for several days after they allegedly killed two other women in Milton, Florida, and a third in Lilian, Alabama, beginning on Jan. 31.

Boyette and Rice allegedly broke into Crocker’s home early on Feb. 6 and fatally shot her before taking off with her car.

Cipriano says Crocker’s family began looking for her when she failed to both drop her son off at her sister’s home and show up for work.

‘Something Was Not Quite Right’

Cipriano tells PEOPLE that her mother went to Crocker’s house that February morning and found a jewelry box Cipriano had bought Crocker for Christmas — but the box was sitting in the driveway.

“That was her first indication that something was not quite right, because Kayla loves that jewelry box and would not have left it in the driveway,” Cipriano says.

Their mother soon found her wounded inside and contacted a relative to call the police. She was hospitalized but died from her wounds the next day.

“My family obviously had hope that there was chance for recovery,” Cipriano says. “But the extent of the injuries to her brain as a result of the gunshot wounds were such that Kayla didn’t survive for much time after it occurred.”

“There was a sense of hope,” she says, “but there was a reality in the back of all our minds that this probably would not have the outcome that we wanted — there’s no recovery from such an injury.”

Police caught up to the suspects at a Georgia motel one day after Crocker was shot.

Boyette killed himself when Rice surrendered to the dozens of officers surrounding the building, authorities previously told PEOPLE.

Changes in Demeanor of Victim’s 2-Year-Old Son

Though Crocker’s son, James, was unharmed by the violence, he was still affected. Cipriano tells PEOPLE there has been a notable change in the little boy since his mother’s death.

“There is definitely a difference to his temperament. He seems a little agitated,” she says, noting that James is usually a “bubbly baby.”

“My mom has said that his nights are very restless,” Cipriano says. “He tosses and turns a lot.”

She adds, “The very first night after , he was crying in his sleep. We’re hoping he doesn’t remember. He’s young enough that hopefully he doesn’t remember it.”

Crocker’s 6-year-old daughter, Rhea, was staying with her father when the shooting occurred.

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A GoFundMe page has been created to cover funeral expenses and set up an education fund for Crocker’s two children. It has raised more than $24,000 as of this writing.

Cipriano says the family is still in a “state of shock,” but that they are grateful to law enforcement for their work in the case.

“It doesn’t feel like real life,” she says.

Remembering Kayla Crocker

Many gathered on Feb. 13 for Crocker’s funeral, according to her family. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Florida as a teenager and graduated from high school in Pensacola, Florida, in 2006, according to her obituary.

“Kayla’s perfect day included spending time with her children, mother, sisters, and nieces; playing with them at the park or the beach,” he obituary reads. “She loved music, the television series Supernatural, and Chinese pop culture and food.”

Cipriano notes that her sister was also an organ donor.

“ was important to her, and we just feel that her spirit and her life will live on in the lives that she’ll be able to save as a result of her organ donations,” Cipriano says.

The one thing she’ll miss most about her sister, she says, is her “silly” side.

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“She could find the sense of humor in almost anything,” Cipriano tells PEOPLE of Crocker. “She was so sweet and innocent and naive. For this kind of thing to happen to her, it’s almost ironic because she didn’t believe in her heart that people could be bad.”

As for her sister’s alleged attackers, Cipriano says she believes Boyette took the “coward’s way out” by killing himself.

She hopes Rice — who has been indicted on first-degree murder in Crocker’s death — provides answers for what motivated the alleged crime.

Rice has also been indicted on accessory-after-the-fact charges in two other deaths in her alleged spree, AL.com reports. She is set to appear in court on March 10.

Rice has not yet entered a plea. Her attorney, Kenneth Brooks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.