OCALA, Fla. - Authorities are searching for clues after a 69-year-old Ocala woman was kidnapped at
knifepoint while volunteering with her church group Monday.
The group, Homebound Heroes, had just finished
providing meals to those in need on Northwest Third Street and North Magnolia Avenue when the attack happened.
Police said after everyone got their meal, Tara Barnes loaded equipment into her car and got in the driver's seat to go home. That's when a man appeared from the back seat, put a knife to the woman's neck and told her to drive.
The man forced Barnes to drive toward the Ocala National Forest and he eventually told her to pull over to the side of the road.
"He put a rope around her throat and pulled her out of the vehicle and began beating her," said Officer Angy Scroble.
Authorities said the man then brandished a blackjack and began to beat her with it. While beating Barnes, police said he stated, "You rich (expletive) think we need your help?"
Police said that afterward, the attacker put Barnes back in the car, demanded money and ordered her to drive back to Ocala.
During that time, he put his other hand over Barnes' mouth and she tried to bite him, but police said that resulted in him removing her dentures and throwing them out of the car.
The man then directed Barnes to pull into the parking lot of a Kmart on SR-40, where he beat Barnes again with the blackjack until she lost consciousness, police said.
Authorities said that when Barnes woke up, the man was gone. She was able to make her way to a Metro PCS store on Pine Avenue, where police and medical personnel were called.
Anita Crews, who works with Barnes, told Channel 9 she was shocked to hear about the attack
"Just devastated, started crying," said Crews. "Honestly, I wish it would've been me. I'd rather taken it than her."
Barnes suffered bruising to the face, arms and abdomen and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
"You never know what's going on internally but I think she's going to survive. I think God's going to take care of her. We're trusting in him," said Crews.
Authorities said they're actively investigating the case and have not identified a suspect.
"Her biggest concern was the money she lost that she couldn't help people with now," said Crews.
The man is described as a white man, standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall, wearing a dark shirt, gloves and a mask.
Anyone with information on the identity and/or location of the man is asked to contact the Ocala Police Department at 352-369-7000. Additionally, tips can be sent through Crime Stoppers of Marion County at 352-368-STOP.