Celebration, Florida murder mystery: Crime touches Disney-made town for first time
BY Lukas I. Alpert
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Raoux/APA reward sign near the entrance to a condominium in Celebration, Fla. where police are investigating the town's first-ever murder. An ugly dose of reality has shattered the calm at a Disney-themed Florida community after cops discovered the first homicide committed there in its history.
Residents of Celebration, Fla. - five miles south of Walt Disney World and planned as a picture-perfect community - were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find crime scene tape near the Christmas-decorated downtown.
Cops had discovered a murder scene at the home of Matteo Giovanditto, 58, after worried neighbors had called to report he hadn't been seen for several days.
"This is very rare and unusual for a crime of this magnitude to occur in this community," said sheriff's spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain.
Details of the killing have not been released, but it has sent a shiver down the spines of the town's 11,000 residents.
"I've always thought of Celebration as a very safe community," said Heather Hardy, as she read a book while sitting in a rocking chair near downtown.
The development was created in 1989 when the Disney Corp. proposed a "wonderful residential town," that would be "closer to Main Street than future world."
Critics dismissed it as a type of "Stepford Wives" project, but residents quickly fell in love after starting to arrive in 1996.
With News Wire Services
Read more: Celebration, Florida murder mystery: Crime touches Disney-made town for first time
From Orlando Sentinel....
Students at Celebration High and K8 are under lockdown due to a standoff in the area with Osceola County deputies.
Celebration High School students who walk or ride bicycles are being held at the school until parents can pick them up or the danger has cleared, school district officials said. Bus riders and car riders were released at the normal 2:45 p.m. dismissal time.
Celebration School K8 is scheduled to be released at 3:30 p.m. Administrators will follow the same plan as the high school.
Osceola County Sheriff's deputies are near Siena Palm Drive and Celebration Boulevard where a man is barricaded inside a home. There is no one in the house with him, officials said.
Deputies have closed several streets in the area and nearby residents have been evacuated.
This is the second lockdown in two days in Celebration because of a report of a person with a gun. On Wednesday a woman reported her soon-to-be ex-husband was distraught and left their home with a gun. Deputies quickly determined he was no longer in the area.
It's unclear if the lockdown is related to the same suspect involved in Wednesday's incident.
Officials say this incident is not related to the recent homicide investigation.
i suppose it's just like any other town......:sigh:
Disney Town Sees 2nd Death In Week
Celebration, Disney's master-planned, picture-perfect central Florida community, has never reported a homicide in its 14-year existence. Now the town has seen its second death in a week.
On Tuesday, residents of the town five miles south of Walt Disney World woke up to the sight of yellow crime-scene tape wrapped around a condo near the Christmas-decorated downtown, where Bing Crosby croons from speakers hidden in the foliage. Two days later, another death was reported.
Authorities who are investigating the second death said the man apparently killed himself after shooting at deputies.
An Osceola County Sheriff's Office report said 52-year-old Craig Foushee barricaded himself in a home in Celebration on Thursday for more than 14 hours. Authorities said he shot at deputies several times.
Deputies entered the home early Friday and found him dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. No deputies were injured.
Osceola County sheriff's deputies said the first victim this week, a 58-year-old neighbor who lived alone with his Chihuahua, was slain over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
The community's famous friendliness is what brought investigators to Matteo Giovanditto's body: Neighbors hadn't seen him for days, so they filed a missing person's report, then went into his condo a day later and found him.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain said there is no connection between Foushee and Giovanditto.
A few years ago, a resident joked with a reporter that Celebration would feel like a real town when a bike was stolen. Now, it has an unsolved killing on its hands.
With 11,000 residents, Celebration is something of an anomaly in Central Florida. There's no suburban sprawl — the entire place is reminiscent of a quaint New England village.
It's the kind of town where people give Christmas gifts to their favorite Starbucks barista, where welcoming wooden rocking chairs sit lakeside on a sidewalk without being stolen, where neighbors tend to get suspicious if they notice you're not around.
And that's what happened with Giovanditto, detectives said.
Neighbors hadn't seen Giovanditto, who owned a bottom-floor condo at a building called The Idlewyld, since the day before Thanksgiving. His black Corvette was also missing. A neighbor was supposed to walk Giovanditto's dog, Lucy, over the weekend, but he wasn't responding to her calls.
A missing person's report was filed Sunday, and the next day neighbors went into his apartment and found his body. Investigators won't say what type of scene they encountered, or how Giovanditto died.
"This is very rare and unusual for a crime of this magnitude to occur in this community," said Lizasuain.
Details were still emerging in the second death, but a man with Foushee's name and address was listed as the owner of a security business, Reliant Protection Group, that dissolved in September, according to online records from the Florida Division of Corporations. Internet postings from a man beleived to be Foushee indicated he had three daughters but had divorced.
A Facebook profile with Foushee's name and the hometown of Celebration, Fla., showed him describing his daughters as "my treasures." In April, he posted that he "went from being married to single."
Photos also depict men at a firing range and doing what Foushee described as "convoy/motorcase IED-scenario training." One photo has the caption: "Dept. of Defense Pre-Deployment Tactical Training."
A LinkedIn profile said Foushee was a pilot for American Airlines for nearly 20 years and an Air Force pilot.
After the incidents, officials, though, were quick to soothe people who live here: Even with the killer still at large, there was no need to worry; no, not here. Giovanditto's death was an isolated incident, Lizasuain said.
"We don't believe the safety of the residents is in jeopardy," she said.
On Tuesday, detectives poked a Crimestoppers sign offering a reward into the lush grass outside the condo, next to a receptacle for dog waste bags. They found the Corvette at an apartment building in a neighboring Orlando suburb. His relatives were notified of his death.
As word of the homicide blew around town like the leaves from the maple trees that line the sidewalks, people started to worry.
"I've always thought of Celebration as a very safe community," said Heather Hardy, who lives there six months a year and was sitting on a wooden rocker downtown, reading a book.
Few neighbors would talk about Giovanditto, who moved to Florida from Massachusetts. The Orlando Sentinel reported that he had once been a teacher; one neighbor thought he was retired.
The killing sullies the type of perfection envisioned in 1989 when Peter Rummell, then-president of the Disney Development Corp., wrote to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner about building a new town on vacant, Disney-owned land in Osceola County.
The community would be a "wonderful residential town east of I-4 that has a human scale with sidewalks and bicycles and parks and the kind of architecture that is sophisticated and timeless. It will have fiber optics and smart houses, but the feel will in many cases be closer to Main Street than to Future World," Rummell wrote in the letter.
Houses incorporated "New Urbanism" ideas such as placing the garage out of sight in the back and a front porch close to the sidewalk to encourage neighbor interaction. Restrictions on home color and architectural details also were in the community's rulebook. Colonial, Victorian, and Arts and Crafts-style homes grace the streets; the downtown is a mix of postmodern buildings and stucco condos.
Residents arrived in 1996. Critics viewed it as something out of "The Truman Show," or "The Stepford Wives."
Fans saw other things. A return to small-town values. A walkable community. Safety.
Disney relinquished control of Celebration several years ago; the town is now maintained like any other in Osceola County. But it still retains theme park-like flourishes: a colorful kiosk sells tickets to a little train that ferries children and adults around town, tourists in Disney sweat shirts roam the streets, taking photos and, on a recent sunny day, Crosby's "White Christmas" could be heard playing all over downtown.
This bucolic landscape makes it all the more difficult to believe that there actually was a homicide here, just steps from Celebration's downtown, where people stroll with their tiny dogs and pause to enjoy a small, glittering man-made lake.
Over the years there has been crime in Celebration, but always much less than in neighboring communities.
And the town has not been immune to the effects of the Great Recession. Last year, the Washington Post wrote a story about the town's dropping real estate values; homes are now available for under $300,000, and condos for $120,000, unheard-of prices just a few years ago.
In the summer, Celebration residents lamented the fact that the Veterans Memorial was marred with painted black graffiti.
On Wednesday, the town's K-8 school was on lockdown, because a woman going through a divorce told officers that her husband might have been driving around with a gun.
And now this, the first homicide and standoff in Celebration, the town that Disney built.
A man committed suicide as well this week after a stand off with the sheriff dept, details here:-
Disney town built rocked by second violent death days after its first-ever murder | Mail Online
A fellow owner who lives in Celebration said the man was a going through personal difficulties and maybe couldn't take the prospect of a future falling apart.