BRANDON — All Mathew Little wanted was a normal life, the kind he had known growing up. He wanted to be married to his girlfriend, to take his kids fishing and to coach their Little League games.
Early on May 16 an assailant gunned down the private security officer for reasons that still escape police. What police do know is that the 20-year-old they arrested said that he "didn't care for police or security" when he admitted shooting Mr. Little as he walked the beat at a St. Petersburg apartment complex.
Mr. Little was 26.
His family and friends are mourning a man who seemed poised to grasp the dream he had long sought. His application to join the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as a cadet had cleared the last hurdles. He and his fiancee had set a tentative marriage date pending his job acceptance.
"He didn't feel it was proper to be married if you didn't have a career goal, a proper job," said Cynthia Little, his mother.
The goal had shifted a few times in his early 20s. Mr. Little had graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor of science degree. He once dreamed of becoming a pediatrician.
He had also thought about studying physical therapy before he started work as a security officer. His ambition then turned to law enforcement. He envisioned becoming a Hillsborough deputy and working his way up the ranks. One of his goals was to join the SWAT team.
To that end, he had passed a physical fitness test, a background check and two polygraph exams.
"To get to the level he was at, he would have been a great selection," said Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
Mr. Little grew up in Sarasota, and loved the outdoors. He played baseball on teams coached by his father, Steven. So did his brother, Christopher, two years his junior and his best friend. Sometimes, Mathew and Christopher put on football pads and smashed into each other in the yard.
"He'd go as hard as he could, and I would go as hard as I could," said Christopher Little, 24.
Later, the brothers fired endless bullets and rocket launchers at each other in video games like Halo and Medal of Honor.
Mr. Little graduated from Sarasota High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society. He met Suzan Leyczek at Florida State University. They transferred to USF together, and grew closer.
One Christmas, he gave her boxes within boxes. Leyczek unwrapped them all and found a wedding ring in the smallest one.
He worked crazy hours that didn't always coincide with hers. But he often cooked dinner and left it in the refrigerator for her. He stashed "I love you" notes around the house.
Once, he even wrote "I love you" with a lawn mower while he was cutting the grass.
"He's a great guy who was just very loving, very supportive," said Leyczek, 27.
Mr. Little's family and fiancee all worried he would get hurt on the job. He patrolled on foot, encountering young males who told him they did not have to answer to him, who threatened him physically. He knew that some were still children, and he cut them some slack.
"He had mentioned some people are scared, so they act out," Leyczek said, "or they were never given respect, so they don't know what it is."
Cynthia Little talked about feeling "elated and sad" when she learned that police captured a suspect in her son's death.
"I was surprised at how much relief there was," she said.
But closure still escapes Mr. Little's family.
Christopher Little finds it hard to play his favorite video games anymore. They remind him too much of how he lost his brother.
"We both loved each other, we probably didn't say it," he said. "His death puts it into perspective, you realize how fragile life is and how quickly things can change.
"Matt had a lot to give. He wanted kids, he wanted all of that. … He deserved to live out his life.
"Someone took that away from him."
Times staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.