Man held family captive for three months, deputies say

- Shotguns, swords, threats, and squatters -- Deputies say a Polk County family, including four children, faced it all while being held captive in their own home for three months.  Now, the suspect, initially known to them only as "Little Man," is behind bars.

Investigators say it all started several months ago.  A distant relative of the victim came to visit him at the Davenport home and was joined by "Little Man" -- a white male whom the victim did not know.  Two days later, Little Man announced that his four homeless children would be moving in.  When the victim objected, Little Man grabbed a shotgun and said it was time to "lay down the rules."

While deputies have not publicly identified the victim, they say Little Man was actually Larry Gene Howard, a 29-year-old felon from Haines City.  And they say he proceeded to hold the victim and his nieces and nephews -- ages 6, 7, 11, and 13 -- captive for the next three months, using threats of violence, and even flashing swords, to keep them in fear for their lives.

Howard's "rules" meant that neither the victim nor his nephews could leave the home.  He allowed the nieces to go to school, but threatened to kill the rest of the family if they told anyone.  He also took the victim's cell phone away.  Meanwhile, Howard's girlfriend showed up a short time later and joined him in the house.

When law enforcement came searching for Howard in May, they took his four children into state custody but did not find his hiding place in a crawl space under the home.  A month later, Howard held a shotgun to the victim's head and said he was going to die today.  That's when the victim finally decided it was time to flee.

When Howard headed into a bedroom, the victim grabbed the four kids, ran to a neighbor's house, and called deputies.

A standoff ensued at the Davenport home.  Howard's girlfriend gave herself up but Howard refused to give up.  Eventually, a K-9 unit tracked him down in his crawl space hiding place.

Inside the home, deputies said they found Howard's shotgun.  A car he had towed to the home was also found, which later turned out to the stolen.

Howard now faces several charges, including false imprisonment, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft, and resisting arrest.

"The suspect is a prolific offender and is a suspect in numerous other crimes that have occurred in the area," a sheriff's office spokesperson wrote.  "He is a suspect in a nearby home invasion in which a shotgun was brandished."

Deputies say Howard denied the accusations.

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