ARLINGTON — Police on Wednesday continued searching for the man who forced his way into the car of an 83-year-old grandmother in her driveway in a quiet neighborhood near Vandergriff Park, killed her and left her body outside a vacant house about three miles away.The woman, identified by a relative as Leona Swafford, was described as a frail and very religious woman. Her husband died in 2010.About 8:30 a.m., Swafford pulled into her driveway in the 400 block of Sussex Drive. The man jumped her, fought off a neighbor and sped away in Swafford’s 2010 Lincoln MKZ with her inside.“My impression was that she was fighting with him ... and was shoved aside,” said Richard Carter, whose wife is Swafford’s niece. “He has ruined a whole lot of lives, including his own.”Swafford’s body was found about 90 minutes later outside a vacant house in the 1900 block of Kimberly Drive behind the Park Plaza strip center on New York Avenue, police said. She had head wounds, police said.Just after 11 a.m., police found the Lincoln at an apartment complex in the 2000 block of Elm Point Drive. That’s behind the police department’s east substation.Witnesses described the assailant as a black man with very dark skin in his late 20s to late 30s, about 6 feet tall with a muscular build. He has short hair, “possibly 1/2-inch Afro,” and little or no facial hair.He was wearing a light-colored shirt and blue jeans.He is considered armed and dangerous, police said. Anyone with information is asked to call 911.‘I heard screaming’Janell Havran, a neighbor, said she heard screaming. “I was inside my house, but I could still hear it,” she said.A different neighbor “went over to help because it appeared that the woman was struggling with the suspect,” said Sgt. Christopher Cook, an Arlington police spokesman. “The suspect threatened the neighbor.”The attacker quickly backed the Lincoln out of the driveway, slamming into a car parked across the street.“I heard someone hit my car, so I came running out of my house,” said Juan Varela. “He hit my car twice, but he was already down the street by the time I got to the sidewalk.”Varela said he couldn’t see anyone in the Lincoln as it sped away.“There was a woman in the street on her knees, like she had tried to stop them from leaving,” Varela said.The neighbor who confronted the attacker was on his phone calling for help, Varela said. That neighbor was not injured, police said.“I thought this was a safe neighborhood,” Havran said. “I guess it isn’t anymore.”Body found at vacant houseSusan Thompson, who lives around the corner from where the body was found on Kimberly Drive, said the house had been vacant for a couple of years, but that people had recently been “hanging around” there.Thompson said she usually walks in the morning in that area, but didn’t do so Tuesday.“But I kind of wish now I would have seen something that would help the police,” she said. “I’m concerned because I live right around the corner, and they haven’t caught them.”Thompson said an investigator had asked her about the vacant house and said police were trying to contact the owner.‘She so loved her flowers’Friends and family converged on Swafford’s home. Several sat in chairs in the front yard under a tree for most of the day, reflecting on Swafford.Police Chief Will Johnson visited the family Tuesday afternoon.Carter said Swafford’s family is well-known in Arlington. Her husband, Roy, had a distinguished military career and then was a familiar sight at the city’s main post office on South Street where he worked for years. He died in 2010.His obituary noted that the couple had been married for 48 years and had six daughters, one son and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.One of Swafford’s sons-in-law is a retired Arlington police lieutenant.“She was a sweet lady. How senseless this was,” Carter said. “We have all the confidence that not just Arlington but all law enforcement are going to help us bring this person to justice.”Havran said that her neighbor was always tending to her flowers.“I’d always see her sitting on her porch,” he said. “She so loved her flowers.” Staff writer Deanna Boyd contributed to this report.
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763 Twitter: @mingoramirezjr