TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has concluded there is no evidence to overturn the medical examiner’s ruling that the death of a former principal’s wife more than four months ago was a suicide.
In a 164-page report released this week, the sheriff’s office said detectives pored over hours of interviews and video footage and found nothing linking Donna Sheppard’s death to a separate criminal case involving a woman accused of stalking Sheppard and her husband, David Sheppard.
Her death, ruled a suicide by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, was the last and most extreme of a stressful series of events for the Sheppard family – her husband’s extramarital affair that led to stalking charges against his former mistress and his resignation from his post as Freedom High School principal five days before Donna Sheppard’s death. David Sheppard cited medical reasons for his resignation.
The report shows that Donna Sheppard, a 44-year-old massage therapist, had her own health issues - a condition that causes chronic pain.
“We looked at the totality of the circumstances, the history that involved this family and the issues that were ongoing with the stalking case,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry McKinnon said. “We wanted to make sure everything that could be done was done, that no stone was left unturned.”
The case is classified as inactive, not closed, and detectives will resume their investigation if any new leads come up, McKinnon said.
According to the report, David Sheppard found his wife’s body, fully-clothed at the bottom of the family swimming pool shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013, a weight-lifting belt around her waist with a 25-pound dumbbell attached. Her shoes were neatly placed at the edge of the pool. He had just brought their daughter home from school after Donna Sheppard failed to pick her up.
A neighbor who was gardening in the backyard said she heard a loud splash and then, later in the day, David Sheppard’s screams.
“I knew what that sound was,” the neighbor, Carol Root-Koupas, told detectives. “It was almost guttural. Someone finding they lost someone they love.”
When deputies arrived, they saw a wet 8-inch knife, part of the family’s kitchen knife set, near the pool’s steps. It was submitted for processing by the Sheriff’s Office crime scene unit, which did not find any evidence connected to Donna Sheppard’s death.
Everything inside of the home, located in Lutz, was in place and there was no sign of a struggle. There were no drugs or alcohol in Donna Sheppard’s system.
The report was released the week after a second stalking charge emerged in the case of Tracey Seenath, a school clerk earlier charged with stalking David Sheppard. Seenath is now accused of stalking Donna Sheppard, too.
David Sheppard told deputies he had ended an affair with Seenath in December 2011, two months before his appointment as Freedom principal, according to court documents. He had previously been her supervisor at Wharton High. He now teaches biology at Gaither High.
A timeline included in the death investigation report shows Seenath was at her New Tampa home the majority of the day Donna Sheppard died, leaving only once to bring her son to get a haircut.
Her brother, Michael West, does not believe his sister took her own life.
“I know my sister and I know this would never have happened,’’ West said.