MARION COUNTY, Fla. — Separated by roughly 400 miles, Robert Cooper’s and Ariel Prim’s parents share a common goal: justice for the Ocala couple whose bodies were burned beyond recognition in a brutal July slaying.
- Remains of Marion couple were identified in December
- Their deaths were declared homicides in March
- $5,000 reward offered, gofundme.com donations sought
- Tipsters urged to call Marion Crime Stoppers at 352-368-7867
- RELATED: Suspicious Deaths of Marion Couple in 2018 Ruled Homicide
Cooper and Prim’s parents, who live in Pasco County, Florida and southeastern New York, respectively, are seeking answers as the Marion County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation.
Detectives have released limited details. Still, what little is known is horrific.
Marion County Fire Rescue responded to the couple’s 3-acre parcel on SE 84th Lane Road in Ocala after getting a report of a structure fire July 28, 2018, a Saturday.
Firefighters found the gates locked.
They cut them off. Firefighters found the doublewide in ashes, smoldering. Then they found human remains. They immediately contacted the Sheriff’s Office.
It was an uncommonly brutal end for a quiet couple who enjoyed an intensely close relationship for a decade. They loved animals. They made a living as remote subcontractors, repairing computers and building IT networks.
“They didn’t have any enemies. They were just two kids trying to make a living,” Prim’s mom, Lisa Weinmann, told Spectrum News 13 from her home in the Catskill Mountains. “They don’t know who did this or why.”
‘Hours in the saddle’
Her daughter grew up with her family in Long Island, where she got her first horse at 9. She became an accomplished equestrian, winning competitions and getting offers for collegiate teams as high school winded down.
“She spent thousands of hours in the saddle,” her mom said. She fell, too. Countless times. Eventually, she had to have surgery because of the pain. She had spinal-fusion surgery in her lower back.
She feared her injuries would ultimately let teammates down during equestrian competitions.
So she set her sights on an art history degree from the University of South Florida near Tampa.
At some point, Prim crossed paths with Cooper. Prim was 17 when she met Cooper online while playing Final Fantasy XI.
Cooper grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and moved to Florida as a young man when his father landed a position in the avionics technology field.
He inherited his dad’s tech skills.
“He was always tearing things apart and trying to put them back together,’’ Cooper said.
Less than two years later, Prim and Cooper were living together in Florida.
‘Sparkle about them’
Karen Cooper thinks their romance sparked immediately online and only got stronger over time.
“It was instantly love. I think they were already in love on the game,” Cooper said. “In real life, there was just sparks and sparkle about the two of them. Once they met in person, I don’t think they spent very much time apart after that.”
The Coopers live in Pasco County, about 70 miles west of Ocala.
Karen Cooper said Rob liked Prim’s sassiness. The young woman had a wicked sense of humor. She was a straight talker, too. But she wasn't comfortable being the center of attention. That’s why when they married, she insisted on a small event, only about 30 guests.
In hopes of generating tips, investigators released wedding-day photos of the couple. They lived together for roughly seven years before they married.
The images captured the happy couple posing under the shadows of palm trees at A.L. Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs in November 2015 on their wedding day.
Robert Lee Cooper and Ariel Vennesa Prim exchanged vows at St. Vincent De Paul Roman Catholic Church in Holiday in Pasco County on November 7, 2015.
“I think they would have just gone to a justice of the peace, but her mom and grandma really wanted the Catholic” ceremony, Cooper said.
She raised her son a Methodist. “So Rob would do anything for her, including becoming Catholic if it was necessary, and it was. So he did.”
In May 2016, the couple moved into a double-wide trailer on 3 acres with a barn at 4030 SE 84th Lane Road in Ocala, a property big enough for Prim’s horses and other animals.
Weinmann grieves for the trauma suffered by her daughter’s three horses that, though they survived, witnessed the chaos from a nearby barn. Lexus, Cameron and Diva now live with Weinmann and her husband on their 40 acres.
Weinmann said she’s endured wave after wave of emptiness with every development in the case. She felt numb after learning of her daughter’s death. The sensation returned in December after the positive identification of the couple’s remains.
The bone fragments and other remains were painstakingly examined by the renowned forensic anthropology laboratory, the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida to genetically confirm the identities.
Then the unsurprising confirmation in March that this was a double homicide drained Weinmann again.
“That eats me alive. I don’t sleep at night because I think about what happened. What they did they do to her?”
They loved animals. They had seven dogs, mostly Chihuahuas. Three dogs survived the fire.
Weinmann has one: Isabella, an Australian terrier and the couple’s first pet.
Cooper has two: A teacup Chihuahua named Fiona, and Link, another Chihuahua.
‘They’re coming after you’
Now, as the investigation continues, Weinmann is planning her first visit to Florida since the homicides. She wants to see the Coopers soon. They're leaving Pasco for good very soon.
Weinmann wants to see the charred property and places where the couple lived, worked, and played.
The Coopers are moving to an undisclosed location out of state, a place with 7 acres that would have had plenty of room for Prim and Cooper, their horses and their other animals. That had been the plan, anyhow, before they were killed.
Weinmann and her husband are scheduled to arrive in Ocala on Friday for the first time since the homicides. They plan to visit the Coopers to pick up a few of her daughter’s possessions before they leave town, including Prim’s wedding dress. She kept it with her mother-in-law for safe-keeping.
Weinmann also wants to stop in and see the lead detective in Marion County. She wants authorities to know that they are still pushing for answers and she’s not just a voice on the phone. She’s a mom. Her daughter was killed. She wants justice.
If all goes as planned, detectives will release Prim’s remains for final cremation Tuesday.
Karen Cooper also hopes to get her son’s remains, too.
She’s not been happy with the pace of the investigation.
She wants the reward, now at $5,000, to go up in hopes of generating tips from someone who knows something useful for investigators.
“Criminals talk,” Cooper said. “Don’t they?”
As for Weinmann, she wants the killer or killers know that her family and investigators will never give up their quest for justice.
“I want whoever did this to be scared. They’re coming after you,” Weinmann said through a burst of tears. “You didn’t get away with it. You didn’t hide anything by burning the house down.”
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