BLUFFTON -- Three men who hid their faces behind Halloween masks brutally attacked a greater Bluffton man and his friend as the two grilled steaks in the backyard Thursday night, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said Friday. The beatings left one of the victims in a Savannah hospital's intensive care unit in critical condition.
The attack, which occurred at a home in the Windy Lakes neighborhood, appeared to be a random act, said Sheriff's Office Capt. Toby McSwain.
Victim Brian Lanese, 33, was in critical condition late Friday at Savannah Memorial Health University Medical Center.
The second victim, Jeffery Wooten, 24, suffered minor injuries.
The three suspects, who Wooten said wore skeleton versions of the mask from the movie "Scream," remained at large Friday night.
Lanese and his wife, Tracy, were at their home with two visitors -- Tracy's sister, Elizabeth Smith, and her boyfriend, Wooten.
Brian Lanese and Wooten had been grilling steaks in the Laneses' backyard to celebrate Tracy's 34th birthday -- Halloween -- a day early. Tracy and Elizabeth were inside in the kitchen preparing french fries.
The Laneses were celebrating the birthday Thursday night because they planned to take their 2-year-old twin boys, who planned to dress up as firemen, trick-or-treating on Friday.
As Wooten flipped the steaks, Brian Lanese headed toward his shed to get sodas.
That's when the suspects burst from the woods behind the house. It was just after 9 p.m.
Two of the attackers went after Lanese.
The third went for Wooten.
At first, Wooten thought it was a joke -- Lanese's neighbors playing a Halloween prank -- and said he began laughing.
He was wrong.
The suspects began beating him and Lanese.
Wooten's laughter turned to panic.
He began screaming for help. Inside, the women couldn't hear him over the sizzling french fries.
Wooten broke free and ran inside.
"He's been attacked," Wooten shouted. "Get some towels."
By then, the attackers had run away.
In the yard, Lanese was on his hands and knees, bleeding heavily from a head wound.
Wooten said the attack lasted no longer than 30 seconds.
The attackers had used their fists and a pellet gun to beat the two, according to a sheriff's office release.
The motive for the attack is unknown, the release said.
Doug Warner, who lives across the street, said he was outside checking his Halloween decorations when he heard Tracy Lanese screaming.
Warner said he thought something might be wrong with the twins, so he ran to the house. There, he found Brian Lanese, both eyes black and swollen, a deep gash in his forehead.
Elizabeth Smith ran to get help from another neighbor who is a paramedic.
Warner, Wooten and a third neighbor had to restrain Lanese, who, despite his injuries, was trying to go after his attackers.
"He didn't realize how bad he was bleeding," Warner said.
Smith described Brian Lanese as quiet and mild-mannered, but in the moments after the attack, he was anything but that, she said.
Doctors later told family and friends that Lanese had been struck on his right frontal lobe, a region of the brain that affects behavior.
"He was not acting like the Brian we know," Smith said. "He was trying to make sense of what happened, but couldn't."
While the others attended to Lanese, Smith went upstairs to the twins' bedroom.
"I turned their lullaby music all the way up so they didn't have to listen to their father scream in agony," she said.
A day after the attack, Halloween porch lights and a giant inflatable pumpkin remained in the yard. All the blinds in the house were closed. The dense woods that lie beyond the toy-strewn backyard were quiet.
After the attack, deputies used K-9 dogs to help search the area. The sheriff's office also has assigned extra patrols to the neighborhood.
"It was an unprovoked attack for no apparent reason," McSwain said. "It's kind of unusual. They were in the backyard minding their own business ... then (Lanese) gets assaulted to the point of being in critical condition."
Lanese, a landscape architect, was being kept sedated Friday night, Smith said.
His prognosis is uncertain, she said.
"It's a nightmare... he's hanging by a thread onto his life," Smith said. "Why us? What did we do? We're good people."
Smith said she spent most of the day Friday calling Lanese's friends. She and Tracy Lanese phoned his parents after the attack Thursday. His mother and father drove to Savannah from Cleveland overnight.
Investigators are trying to develop leads, McSwain said.
"We don't have a lot to go on," he said.
They hope to get additional information from Lanese once he is able to talk, he said.
The attack was the second serious incident in the neighborhood within the past month.
About three weeks ago, three masked men carrying pistols broke through the rear door of a home just down the street from the Lanese residence. The men, who were later arrested, demanded a wallet from the 27-year-old man inside the house.
McSwain said officials are investigating whether the two incidents might be related.