ORLANDO, Fla. – A former South Florida resident who as a teen lost his hands, feet and parts of his limbs is a “person of interest” in the fatal shootings of his parents in their Orlando-area home, police said.
As a teenager, Sean Petrozzino made headlines with his upbeat attitude after bacterial meningitis left him a quadruple amputee at 16. His positive outlook prompted donations of a voice-command laptop, wheelchair ramps and a specially equipped van.
On Wednesday, Petrozzino, now 30, made headlines again – this time, police say, as a gun-toting, dangerous man wanted for questioning in the double homicide.
The bodies of Nancy Petrozzino, 64, and Michael Petrozzino, 63, were found Tuesday, prompting a search for Petrozzino and his father’s red Toyota Camry. Deputies think Petrozzino might have been headed to the Florida towns of Jupiter or Coral Springs.
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He is a person of interest, not a suspect, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Jane Watrel said at a news conference Wednesday.
“We want him to get in here and talk to us so we can find out what happened since he was apparently living with his parents,” Watrel said.
Homicide detectives Wednesday released a surveillance photo of Petrozzino taken near a Wells Fargo ATM in Orlando on Tuesday.
“Please note for identification purposes the physical characteristics of his hands,” Watrel said in statement, adding that no other details about the picture would be released. Watrel said deputies think he had a gun.
Jerry L. Saunders, chief executive officer of ABC Prosthetics and Orthotics in Orlando, said people without hands have the ability to fire weapons without special devices. “There is very little (a person) can’t do functionally,” Saunders said.
In 2000, the Sun Sentinel profiled Petrozzino, then 16, as he recovered from bacterial meningitis. He and his parents were living in Pembroke Pines; Petrozzino was a student at Cooper City High School.
“Lots of important things in life just happen by chance,” he said at the time. “You know someone and get a job that makes you millions of dollars. Or you get a disease. There doesn’t seem to be any reason some things happen.
“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me,” he said. “As much as I feel bad about what happened, I feel good that my family and all my friends stood by me.”
“We are so proud of his attitude,” said Michael Petrozzino, quoted in the same 2000 article. “This thing has been very hard for us to take. He’s adopted and he’s our world.”
A family member said Wednesday that Petrozzino had recently separated from his wife in Georgia and moved in with his parents, longtime Orange County teacher Nancy and Walt Disney World cast member Michael.
His mother-in-law, Cathleen Horne, said Petrozzino has always been a calm and peaceful person.
“I’ve known Sean since he was 16 years old,” Horne said. “This just seems bizarre. It seems like a bad dream.”
Deputies were called to the family’s home outside Orlando at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday after staff at Nancy Petrozzino’s school noticed she was missing and asked for a well-being check.
The couple, married 41 years, were found dead inside the home.
Grief counselors were dispatched to Nancy Petrozzino’s school, Andover Elementary, where she taught second grade. She had been a teacher for 40 years, Horne said.
Records show Sean Petrozzino and his wife lived in east Orange County before they moved to Georgia about a year ago.
A foreclosure notice was filed on their former residence, near Orlando’s Valencia College, in August. There, a nest of bees and old shopping fliers littered the unkempt lawn of the unoccupied house.
Primitivo Vasquez, who has lived in the house next door for 25 years, said Petrozzino and his wife kept to themselves, except for small talk when Sean took out his dog.
“He seemed normal. I never had a reason to worry about him,” said Vasquez. “I cannot imagine him doing something like this, I don’t think he would be able to.”
The house has been empty since Sean Petrozzino left last year; Vasquez said no one has visited the house since.
Petrozzino had no prior criminal history in Florida, state Department of Law Enforcement records showed.