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On Aug. 1, 2012, the lives of three children were radically altered in an instant with the tragic death of their parents.
Early that Wednesday morning, Joseph Davenport, 48, shot and killed his estranged wife, Deborah, 47, then killed himself, leaving the three children — Tiffany, now 23; Joey, now 16; and Savanna, 14 — alone.
They’re not alone, however. In the wake of this tragedy, the community has stepped in to help raise these three young people in a true example of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
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One day this past summer, someone called the sheriff’s office to report a stranger in the neighborhood.
Since their parents’ deaths, Tiffany, Joey and Savanna have lived in their mother’s two-bedroom condo in a deed-restricted housing area where the average age of the residents is older than 60.
Tiffany and Savanna were out and Joey was at a football game and came home earlier than expected. When he discovered he was locked out of the house, he started pacing up and down the street in front of the house.
“The cops came, lights and all,” Tiffany said, laughing. “But as soon as they saw his ID, they knew, ‘Oh, that’s Tiffany’s brother.’”
Many of the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies know Tiffany from Beef ‘O’Brady’s where she works. Many people in the community knew her parents, especially her mother. They know the kids.
The family has lived in Inverness since the mid-1990s, involved in everything — soccer and Girl Scouts and school events. The Davenports were known as a friendly, open, giving, boisterous family. To know the Davenports is to love them.
Some weeks later, at a social event in the neighborhood where the Davenport kids were clearly the youngest ones in attendance, they met a woman who confessed it was her husband who had called the cops.
“The lady told us, ‘After 8 p.m. nothing happens around here,’ and her husband thought it was suspicious,” Tiffany said. “When we moved here, I knew that because we’re so young that the people here would have an eye on us. So my whole goal was to put ourselves out there. I told the kids if they ever see anybody, wave at them. Be nice, because I knew we’d be under a watchful eye.”
They began raking neighbors’ yards and being their extra-friendly, helpful selves.
“We’ve met the neighbors here and there and it’s turned out that they love us and we love being here,” Tiffany said. “They say, ‘If you ever want to be spoiled or need some grandparents, come on over.’ So, we feel like we have a whole bunch of grandparents here.”
Next-door neighbor Millie Reph said when the neighbors first learned three young people were going to be living in their quiet neighborhood, there was some apprehension.
“People were thinking, ‘What are they going to be like? How much noise are they going to make?’ But they’re great kids. They’re friendly, they hug everybody, talk to everybody. And the girls come and play bingo.”
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In the days following the events of Aug. 1, Debbie Davenport’s only sister, Cyndi Weber, and brother-in-law, Jake Weber, came from Cinnaminson, N.J., and stayed for a month with the newly orphaned kids. In that month, the Webers guided Tiffany through a maze of legal stuff, helping her make the transition from carefree college student to head of household.
“Right away, we did guardianship stuff and got the kids signed up for Social Security, which they’ll get until they’re 18 or graduate high school,” Tiffany said. “They already had Florida Kid Care health insurance — my parents had that set up — and I had to get everything transferred into my name. A friend whose son is on Joey’s football team works at the health department and she helped me out.”
Tiffany signed up for a Kinship Care program through Kids Central, a support program for non-parent relatives raising children.
“I have a financial adviser and a lawyer,” Tiffany said. “Before, I was living with my parents. I only had a few bills that weren’t that big of a deal. Now I’m responsible for everything.”
Tiffany said she has help and support everywhere.
In the weeks immediately after her parents’ deaths, Beef ‘O’Brady’s hosted fundraising events for the kids. This past Christmas, CASA gave them a gift and the teachers from Citrus High School raised $750 for them. Bealls, where Debbie Davenport worked as a visual fashion merchandiser, also gave the kids gifts.
Joey and Savanna participated in “Shop with a Vet,” sponsored by the American Legion Post in Crystal River. Neighbors and their friends’ parents drop food off at the house.
“We have so much support, it’s crazy,” Tiffany said.
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Cyndi Weber said it was extremely difficult to return to New Jersey when the month was up, although knowing of the community’s involvement in her nieces’ and nephew’s lives made it easier.
“The day her parents died, Tiffany made the decision to stay in Florida to finish raising the kids,” Weber said. “But that doesn’t mean that can’t change. Any one or two or all three of them are welcome to come here and always will be ... by the time we left for New Jersey, we were sure they could manage financially and be able to sustain a home.
“They were ready to get their new lives started, and while I thought that was a good thing — it was time — it also scared me. I was still reeling from my sister’s death and I thought, ‘How are these kids going to deal with the everyday things on top of the grief and the horror of this tragedy?’ But they’ve done so well so far.”
Weber said she and her husband have stepped in as surrogate parents and she keeps in constant contact with them, especially Tiffany. Sometimes Tiffany calls just to blow off steam.
For the first several months, Savanna and Tiffany butted heads. There was a lot of, “You’re not my mom; you can’t tell me what to do.”
“It was awful at first,” Tiffany said. “But something just clicked and we started figuring out how to do it.”
Savanna admitted the transition was, indeed, terrible at first.
“It’s weird, but she’s good at it,” she said, referring to Tiffany now being her legal guardian.
Tiffany’s boss at Beef ‘O’Brady’s, Tamara Berry, said she and the staff and regular customers have all taken the kids under their wings. Berry gives Tiffany flexibility with her schedule to accommodate the kids’ school and soccer, football, track and tennis schedules.
Savanna recently started working there, too.
“What do you do in a situation like this?” Berry said. “You do the only thing you can do to help take care of them. Tiffany has grown up a lot — it amazes me. She had a great role model in her mother, and I’ve always seen a lot of Debbie in Tiffany, and now even more.
“I tell her every day that I love her,” Berry said. “She doesn’t have that any more. I tell her, ‘I’m not your mother, but I’ll do what I can to help you.’”
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When the Davenport kids first moved from their larger home in the Inverness Highlands where they had grown up (and where their parents had died) to where they are now, they were apprehensive.
“Joey has his own room and bathroom, and Savanna and I share a room and bathroom,” Tiffany said. “I thought it would be awful sharing a room, but it hasn’t been that bad. It’s actually been really good, and we’ve grown because of it. We’re closer now. The three of us — we’re a package now.”
Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or 352-564-2927.