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Homicide victim had troubled youth
August 10, 2017

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On July 10, 2010, two masked men forced their way into the Cape Coral home of Eric Leigh Stuebinger at gunpoint, while his 1-year-old son and the child's mother were present.

While demanding money and drugs, the men shoved the 28-year-old around, before using a Taser on him and pistol-whipping him repeatedly in the head. As Stuebinger tried to punch one of the suspects, he partially pulled the man's mask off of his face. Stuebinger was shot in the torso area, dying on site.

The men fled in a nearby truck. Inside of it, a 14-year-old was waiting for them.

Last week, three men armed with guns forced their way into the Fort Myers apartment of Zachary Michael Alexander Holmes, 21. The suspects intended to rob Holmes, who was not alone at the time, according to police officials. Holmes sustained a life-threatening gunshot wound and the men fled.

Holmes was rushed on Aug. 3 to Lee Memorial Hospital, where he died.

Holmes had once been that teen waiting in the truck.

On Thursday, his family acknowledged Holmes' part in the older tragedy.

"I think young children can be very vulnerable and manipulated by older folks," Michael Holmes, his father, said. "I honestly believe Zach was manipulated into a situation he was unaware of."

"In the end, it was a hardship for everyone involved," he added.

Two men - Terry Frank Ragland Jr. and Timothy Wayne Tuttle Jr. - were eventually caught and charged in Stuebinger's death. Both were sentenced to life in prison in connection to the crime.

While Holmes served as a witness, he was never charged.

"Zach learned a lot from the experience that he went through," his father said.

According to court records, Holmes was charged as a juvenile five times in Lee County from 2011 to 2013. The charges filed against him and resolutions in each case were unavailable as of press time.

Beyond that, he had a speeding ticket and driving while license suspended or revoked.

The charge of driving while license suspended or revoked was nolle prossed.

"He had a lot of struggles, but he had changed his life around," Michael Holmes said, adding that his son had been talking about moving out of Fort Myers and Florida and having a family of his own.

"Zach was an incredibly generous man," he said. "He went out of his way for others."

Ronald Eugene Ashley III, 20, of 1522 N.W. 19th St., has been charged in Holmes' death, along with two others - Steven Lemar Williams, 20, and Jacques Lamar Brown Jr., 18, both of Fort Myers.

Fort Myers police reported that all three have been charged with homicide murder dangerous depraved without premeditation and robbery residence home invasion with firearm other deadly weapon.

"As much as I would like to say there's justice, it just doesn't feel right," Chloe Holmes, his sister, said on Thursday. "I was glad to hear that they were caught and in custody within 24 hours."

However, it still does not bring her brother back, she added.

Her father echoed that sentiment.

"I'm glad that they weren't on the street any longer," Michael Holmes said. "They need to not be out with the rest of the general public."

"No one else needs to go through this," he said.

One family, which has walked in eerily similar steps, agreed.

Natalie Christmas' son was 9 when his father was shot and killed in a home invasion robbery. He was not present during the incident, but his younger brother was - her son is Stuebinger's eldest child.

"It's still horrible," Christmas said on Thursday. "That's not something you get over."

"I feel bad for his parents and family because they have to go through it," she added.

Christmas, however, was almost relieved to hear of the recent tragedy.

"It was a closure to something we needed," she said.

"We never understood why the self-admitted getaway driver, who was 14 at the time, never was charged in connection to his murder," Christmas added via an email.

She noted that the men knew where Stuebinger's home was because Holmes pointed it out.

"We have struggled emotionally through the seven years since Eric was senselessly murdered, but now Eric can rest in peace," Christmas continued in the email. "The last party involved has met his fate."

She explained that while her son is a well-adjusted teen, he still has emotions that he has to work through as he becomes a man. She said he has struggled to understand his father's murder and always wanted to talk to Holmes to simply ask him why, which he will now never have the chance to do.

"These senseless acts of murder have got to stop," Christmas said.

"People need to realize that so many lives are affected when one person is murdered," she said. "Children never get to know their father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or grandparents due to these senseless acts of violence."

As in many cases, Stuebinger and Holmes left behind family and friends who must carry their memory.

"To me, that was my big brother," Chloe Holmes said. "He is my big brother.

Holmes was always there to protect her and her other sisters.

"I felt as if he was invincible," she said. "I just want him to be remembered for the brave and courageous soul that he was and always will be."

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the Holmes family cover the funeral expenses. To donate to the family's fund, visit online at: www.gofundme.com/zachery-michael-alexander-holmes.

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