Teen suspect arrested in shooting death of 14-year-old girl

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A teenager has been arrested in the shooting death of another teen, who was not the intended target, the Hillsborough County sheriff announced Wednesday. 

Deputies arrested 16-year-old Dereck Polanco Rivera, who was part of a gang in the Town 'N' Country neighborhood, according to Sheriff Chad Chronister. He said the teen suspect fired multiple shots, intending to strike a different occupant inside the vehicle. Instead, a bullet struck 14-year-old Dinorah Rodriguez. 

"The 14-year-old girl [was] in the backseat of the car with a gunshot wound to the head," the sheriff explained during a Wednesday morning press conference. "A male occupant had a long-standing beef with the suspect. Detectives believe that's why Rivera targeted the car the young girl happened to be riding in."

Rodriguez died the day after the shooting, which occurred near Kingsway Road and East Clay Avenue in Brandon. 

The sheriff said the suspected shooter and the teenagers in the car were at a party on Rollingwood Lane in Valrico earlier in the night.

"Probably about 30 cars over here between the easement and my neighbor's yard. They were all out here making a loud noise. We thought they were having some sort of party and went in and they didn't stop making noise until about two in the morning," said Zach Heghpeth, who lives across from the house where the party took place.

"I just can't believe that was right across the street from my house," he continued. "I was stunned that we had talked to some of these people across the street and to think that that's happening around here is scary to think about."

An adult female driver and two other teenagers were inside the vehicle at the time of the shooting, and were not injured. After the teen was shot, they drove about a mile away before stopping at a Walgreens to call 911.

"Fourteen years old and getting shot outside, I can't believe that at all. I hurt for her family and I can't imagine the loss that these people took," Hedgpeth said. "It's scary to know that these people are out here and it's almost like they don't have a conscience."

The shooting does not appear to be gang-related, investigators said, and it's unclear what caused the conflict between the suspect and the teen boy inside the vehicle. 

“We are certain he is our shooter and he is in custody," Sheriff Chronister said. "This young girl was not the intended target of our shooter. I understand nothing I can say can bring this young girl back, who was taken before her time."

A vigil for Dinorah was held Sunday night where dozens gathered in her memory. 

On Tuesday, Rivera was arrested on a murder charge.

The full press conference with the Hillsborough County sheriff can be viewed below: