HUDSON, FL - SWAT teams swarmed a downtown Tampa hotel early Friday, arresting a suspect in the killing of four people whose bodies were found piled on top of each other outside and being circled by birds. A 4-year-old autistic boy believed to be the man's son was found safe at the hotel, Tampa police said.
Police said they took Adam Matos, 28, into custody at the Floridan Palace Hotel, with charges pending. The child, Ismael Tristan Santisteban, was with him. Matos had been the subject of an intense manhunt since the bodies were discovered Thursday outside a home in Hudson, Florida, about 45 miles north of Tampa.
A tip led multiple law enforcement agencies to the Floridian, a recently reopened landmark hotel in downtown Tampa across the street from the federal courthouse.
As he was led to a police car, Matos told reporters, "I love my son and I hope that he's safe right now."
When asked why he took the boy, he replied, "Because he's my son." He denied killing the victims or knowledge of who did. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a Friday news conference that Matos is the only suspect, but he wouldn't discuss the evidence allegedly linking him to the crime. Matos' initial court appearance is scheduled for Saturday.
Matos recently came to Florida from Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, Nocco said. Court records there show he had been arrested numerous times for harassment, theft, burglary, trespassing, assault and driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty to some of the charges while other cases appear to have been dismissed.
The names of the victims have not been released because the medical examiner hasn't positively identified the bodies yet, Nocco said.
Police used a ruse to lure Matos out of his room and away from the child. Nocco said Matos was caught by surprise and didn't put up a fight. Matos had been at the Tampa bus station Thursday trying to get a bus to Key West, but one wasn't immediately available so he checked in the nearby Floridan, Nocco said.
The sheriff's office worked with Tampa police to devise "a plan so this would end safely," said Jane Castor, Tampa Police chief.
Castor said the child seemed fine. "He is in good spirits," she said during a news conference Friday morning.
Castor said that she did not know whether a weapon was found in the room. But she said Pasco investigators were attempting to get a search warrant for the hotel room.
The search for Matos and the boy began Thursday after Pasco sheriff's deputies conducted a welfare check at a Hudson home. The deputies who stopped by the home found no one home but noticed a bad odor in the area. They walked down the street toward an area where birds were circling and found four bodies -- two men and two women -- piled on top of each other. He said they had apparently been there for several days.
Nocco said the scene inside the home alarmed investigators.
Matos quickly became a suspect. He had been seen in the area recently and Nocco said the killings were not a random act.
Nocco said Matos is believed to be the boy's father, although a DNA test is pending. He said it is unclear whether the boy witnessed the killings - he said an investigator who specializes in talking to autistic children is interviewing him.
The boy had last been seen at his Pasco County home Aug. 28. He said the boy's mother called the sheriff's office that day and said Matos had threatened her with a knife and then fled.
Nocco said the woman told investigators she was scared of Matos. He said they gave the woman information on shelters and searched for Matos, but couldn't find him.
He said the victims had only recently moved into the home for a short stay and had planned to soon head to Key West.
Hours after Matos' arrest Friday, Pasco deputies still had blocked outsiders from the Hudson home's street. Only residents were allowed access.
A black sheriff's office crime scene truck was parked in front of the salmon-colored stucco home. Reporters and others from media outlets gathered in an empty grass lot near a canal.
Neighbors said the homes on Hatteras Street all abut canals leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Many residents have docks or boats in back of their homes.
The area is dotted with fish shacks. The neighborhood is filled with larger homes and many retirees - although it's also a place where working-class people have been able to afford waterfront property.
Mark Evans and Becky Steen are siblings who run a nearby storage facility and landscaping service that overlooks the area where the bodies were found.
"It's been quiet around here," Evans said. "We mow some lawns over on that street and we didn't see anything out of the ordinary."