TAMPA — Liza Natkin wants people to know about the boy in the pictures: her son at the Keys, in his senior portrait, holding a rifle, flexing his muscles in the mirror, playing electric guitar.
Natkin, who is from Dover, called a press conference Thursday at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Operations Center to share memories of her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Nathaniel J.A. Schultz.
Lance Cpl. Schultz died Saturday during combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to the Marine Corps. He was 19.
"Nate was very bright," Natkin said. "He was very funny. He had a sense of humor that didn't quit, and he was always active, always doing something."
He had made an about-face after being a disrespectful, sarcastic teen who made poor choices that had landed him at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor, where "he became a man," his mother said.
At 17, he told his mother he wanted to join the Air Force, and Natkin told him to think about it. After more time at the ranch, he insisted he wanted to join the Marines. Natkin signed off.
"Fortunately or unfortunately for him, he was my only son, my baby, and he got what he wanted," she said.
Lance Cpl. Schultz graduated from Clearwater's Countryside High School in 2009 and worked part time at Sweetbay Supermarket on McMullen-Booth Road before joining the Marine Corps in June 2009.
He was an assistant gunner assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.
Lance Cpl. Schultz was deployed to Afghanistan in June and promoted to lance corporal Aug. 1. A gung-ho, do-everything kind of kid, Schultz was into demolition and disassembling bombs, Natkin said.
"He never talked about how dangerous it was," she said. "All his letters and all his phone calls were like he was on vacation."
Natkin recently received a letter from her son saying he was giving children in Afghanistan candy while teaching them English. One stole his water bottle, he wrote. When he ran out of candy, he gave them some of his caffeine gum — all he had left to give.
A reporter at the Thursday press conference asked why she was choosing to share her memories with the public.
"Because there's babies over there," Natkin said. "There's babies like my son over there that shouldn't have to come home in a box like him."
Times staff writer Demorris A. Lee contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.