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Deputies: Polk man held 5 hostage for months

Posted at 2:13 PM, May 17, 2016
A Polk County man is accused of holding a family hostage for three months in their own home.
 
Larry Gene Howard, 29, of Haines City was arrested Monday while hiding from law enforcement in a crawl space under the victims’ home, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
 
The victims were an uncle and his nieces and nephews, ages 6, 7, 11 and 13.
 
The arrest report says Howard came to the home three months ago with four children of his own. Howard threatened the uncle with a shotgun and forced him to let them stay.
 
Howard also let his girlfriend, Hanna Wright, move into the home, the report says.
 
In April, the Florida Department of Children and Families officials and law enforcement came to the home in search of Howard and his four children, the report says. DCF took Howard’s children. Howard, meanwhile, went undetected while hiding under the home.
 
Howard kept the uncle’s cellphone in order to keep him from calling for help, the report says.
 
Howard learned the uncle received a monthly disability payment of $718, the report says. He began forcing the uncle to withdraw all his money from an ATM machine.
 
Howard also cut a hole in the floor in case he had to hide from law enforcement.
 
On Monday, Howard held a gun to the uncle’s head and told him he was going to die. Later, Howard told the uncle said “something was going down today,” the report says.
 
The uncle sneaked out of the house with his nieces and nephews and called law enforcement from a neighbor’s home, the report says.
 
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.
 
Howard's so-called girlfriend says none of the story is true.
 
"I'm not even his girlfriend. We're just best friends," Hanna Wright said.
 
Wright lives with her mother about a mile down the road from the home where the alleged crimes took place.
 
She said Howard and his children had been staying with her for several months. She said her mother had heart surgery and needed some quiet, so Howard spent much of his time at his friend's home just down the road.
 
"I wouldn't even say he was living there," Wright said. "He just stayed there for a little bit."
 
She said the uncle listed as the victim was also having issues with the law and DCF. She said she was inside of the house when the uncle asked Howard to cut the trap door in his niece's bedroom closet.
 
"[The uncle] wanted it to be made because if DCF came or anything else, any other reason for them kids to get out of the house, he wanted there to be a way to get out of the house other than the doors," she said.
 
Wright claims there was no reason for Howard to hold that family hostage because her door was always open.