A 12-year-old boy shot and killed a 54-year-old homeless man last month in a Westside parking lot, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Sharron Townsend is charged with murder in the death of Thomas Trent, who was found dead at a vacant business in the 7400 block of 103rd Street about 7:20 a.m. June 28. Police said Townsend shot Trent one time in the head.
Police said surveillance video was obtained from nearby businesses that helped them identify two persons of interest after receiving tips from the public. The video shows the two in the area at about 2:25 a.m.
Investigators said one of them, 16-year-old Darrel Royal, was incarcerated in connection with an unrelated robbery, and when interviewed Wednesday night, he implicated Townsend.
Police said they then interviewed Townsend, who they said admitted to shooting Trent with a .22-caliber gun. Police said the gun has not been recovered.
Investigators said Townsend and Trent did not know each other, and the killing appears to be random. Police said Trent was not robbed. Townsend did have one prior arrest on a burglary charge.
"I cannot tell you a reason. To me, the best way to describe it is a horrible, spontaneous event," said Assistant Chief Chris Butler. "I can't give you an explanation as to why it happened."
Police initially said foul play was not suspected in the death, but two days later they said it was. On July 1, police released the surveillance video of two persons of interest in the killing.
Butler said no charges are expected for Royal in connection with the killing.
"We did not believe that he was involved in the incident," Butler said.
Trent sometimes lived in a shed behind an abandoned Pizza Hut off 103rd.
"I used to stay in the little shed with him, and I see him and hung out with him on weekends," said Ron Butler, who knew Trent. "When I don't want to go home, I might hang out sometimes.
"He was a nice guy, never bothered nobody. As a matter fact he was a crippled guy. He may ask you for some change, but he wasn't no troublemaker at all, not at all."
Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford spoke Thursday about young violent offenders and said children need to be raised in a strong home environment.
"They become violent because we're not teaching them values," he said. "Somewhere on the lines, this 12-year-old was never taught that there is value to life, and he doesn't value his own, he doesn't value anyone else's, and that's how you can just take a life for no reason. That's what we're up against."
Rutherford said that's why prevention and intervention programs in the community are so important -- programs such as the Police Athletic League, Pastor Gundy's Nehemiah Family Life Center that teaches kids how to solve problems without violence, and the nonprofit Save Our Sons at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church that works with families.
"Not just dealing with the boy, but dealing with the family as a whole, trying to work where we can connect the fathers to their sons and make sure the mothers are empowered to be able to raise the sons as well," said Scott Cotton, executive pastor at St. Paul.
These leaders try to get kids on the right track and give them hope for a better future, so a child like Townsend doesn't end up in jail charged with murder, and an innocent man like Trent dead.
Thomas Trent's sister spoke to News4Jax Thursday night about her brother's murder. Dawn McNabb told News4Jax that Trent had some problems that led to him becoming homeless, but she had no idea why someone would kill him.
McNabb said she was relieved to get some closure, with Sharron Townsend’s arrest, but she couldn't believe her brother was killed at the hands of a 12-year-old.
"I think it's horrible, especially a 12-year-old child that did away with my brother. I mean, 12-years-old, how did he even get a gun? Where was his parents watching him? My brother just got out of the hospital and hadn't even been out a few hours before this happened to him," said McNabb.
McNabb said her brother went on a downward spiral with alcohol after his parents died, but she said Trent was a caring and giving man, his death last month left her entire family shaken.
"It's been driving my whole family crazy. My younger brother in Pomona Park has been wanting to come up and hunt everybody down until he could find someone who did this to my brother," said McNabb.
News4Jax also spoke to a psychologist Thursday night about what might cause someone so young to commit such a crime. Dr. Stephen Bloomfield, a forensic psychologist, said in this case, it’s possible Townsend is so young that he doesn't fully understand the value of life.
"A child doesn't innately know that somebody’s homeless. First off, a child doesn’t usually have a murder weapon that could kill somebody, so it gets very complicated with kids. More complicated than with adults because kids can’t explain things often," said Bloomfield.