Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

19-year-old man killed in Largo drive-by shooting

LARGO — The dispute between the young men from Largo and the young men from Clearwater has gone on for months, even years. It seems no one can explain how it started. Now, though, people say much of the animosity is over drugs, pride and territory.

A few weeks ago, word spread on Facebook that a group from Clearwater was throwing a birthday party in a Largo neighborhood on Friday.

Gregory Williams, a 19-year-old from Clearwater, was among those planning to attend. People who know him say members of the Largo clique made it known online that the partygoers from Clearwater were not welcome on their turf. Williams' family and friends asked him not to go.

"I don't know why it needs to be in Largo," his best friend, Angela Brandes, told him earlier this week. "It's a shooting waiting to happen."

On Friday, it happened. Up to three cars were used in what Pinellas sheriff's investigators are calling a drive-by shooting that left Williams dead.

"This is senseless," his mother, Dee Williams, said Saturday in the living room of her home. Family photos decorated each wall and nearly every shelf. Her cloudy eyes wandered the carpet.

"Senseless."

• • •

Williams grew up just 6 miles north of where he was shot.

At Clearwater High School, his parents say, he made As and Bs. He was quiet, but popular and handsome.

"A tall drink of water," his mother said. "He had eyelashes that women would die for."

At 6-foot-4 and nearly 200 pounds, he starred on the football team. He wanted to earn an athletic scholarship and study engineering at Virginia Tech or Texas A&M.

During his sophomore year, though, he suffered a devastating knee injury that ended his career. Rapping became his passion, but without football, he lost focus.

Williams got into a fight his senior year. He transferred to Dunedin High School, where he graduated in 2011.

After hearing someone wanted to kill him because of the fight, his family says, he bought a gun. He was arrested twice last year on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. He received a year-long sentence, which included four months in prison.

On Sept. 21, his family says, he got out and returned home determined to fix his life. He moved in with his mother and began applying for jobs. He wanted to attend St. Petersburg College and become a chef like his father, Greg. He had started cooking again, mostly for the family: pancakes, fried chicken and his specialty, spaghetti.

"He was doing better," his mother said. "He got his head straight."

Three weeks ago, Williams got more good news: He was going to be a father.

• • •

Williams, his parents said, was not in a gang and never had been. After leaving prison, he hung out with the same friends he had since middle school. Still, he knew firsthand of the dispute between Clearwater and Largo.

His brother, Major Marchman, 24, said Williams got into a fight just a week ago with a man from Largo named "Shaq." Williams hurt his foot. Marchman wasn't sure what sparked the brawl but believed it was related to the territorial dispute.

Still, his family says, he didn't go to the party looking for trouble.

On Friday, Williams and two of his friends stopped at In the Cut barbershop before the night out. His uncle, Christopher Anderson, 35, cut their hair.

When Anderson heard the party's location, he didn't understand.

"Largo?" he said. "Aren't Largo and Clearwater beefing?"

"We're not part of that," Williams told him.

His mother didn't know of the trouble in Largo or the supposed threats being posted on Facebook. Her son, she said, was just excited. He hadn't been to a party since he left prison. At home, he complained that the day seemed like it would never end. He wanted night to come.

He took a nap, then a shower. His mother teased him, like she often did, about how much toothpaste he used. He dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt and Nikes.

He told her he wasn't coming home that night.

"Mom," he said on his way out, "I'm gone."

Brandes would have gone with him that night, but she had to work. She texted him at 10:30 p.m.: "I'm going to pray for you."

Minutes later, Williams arrived at 12078 134th Place N. Rap music pulsed through the mostly teenage crowd of about 30. He walked up the driveway, past a table of chicken wings and meatballs and into the white and orange cinderblock house. He spoke to the birthday boy, who was turning 20. He walked back to the end of the driveway.

Neighbors heard yelling, then a storm of gunfire. Rubber squealed against the road. People screamed. They ran. Williams collapsed next to the house. His blood pooled atop the concrete.

Though dozens of rounds were fired, Williams was the only person hit. His family thinks he was just a bystander, but they're not sure.

"I just think he was in the wrong place," his mother said. "I could be wrong. I don't know."

Times researcher Natalie A. Watson contributed to this report. Reach John Woodrow Cox at [email protected]

Comments
‘We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know.’

‘We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know.’

Nikolas Cruz was immature, quirky and depressed when James and Kimberly Snead took him into their Parkland home. But he was pleasant and seemed to be growing happier, they said.How the 19-year-old turned into a man now arrested and charged with 17 co...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Broward program will give small-time offenders a big break

Broward program will give small-time offenders a big break

FORT LAUDERDALE — Pot smokers aren’t the only law breakers able to get a second chance in South Florida. Underage adults buying alcohol, those stealing property worth less than $300 and people nabbed for trespassing, loitering or disorderly conduct a...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Parkland students to march on Florida Capitol to demand changes to gun laws

Parkland students to march on Florida Capitol to demand changes to gun laws

TALLAHASSEEAhundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will travel to Tallahassee for a march on the state Capitol on Wednesday in the first organized protest of their #NeverAgain movement.Their demand: that Florida legisl...
Updated: 5 hours ago
As victims are mourned in Florida, a search for solace, and action

As victims are mourned in Florida, a search for solace, and action

PARKLAND — On the Sunday after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lost 17 of its own, a minister in Parkland implored his flock not to let the horrific shootings lead them away from their faith."Our world is broken, but Jesus is not," the Rev. Eddi...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Pinellas Park man tries to stop people breaking into his car, is shot in arm

PINELLAS PARK — A man saw people trying to break into his vehicle and chased them away, before one of the attempted burglars shot him in the arm, police said.Alexander Weaver, 28, was at his home on the 6200 block of 106th Avenue N early Sunday morni...
Published: 02/18/18

Deputies: Woman charged with DUI manslaughter hit St. Pete Beach pedestrian

ST. PETE BEACH — Deputies say a driver killed a man walking on a sidewalk and fled the scene before causing a second crash Saturday night.Carolyn Yovan, 51 of St. Pete Beach, now faces felony charges of driving under the influence manslaughter and le...
Published: 02/18/18
Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Saturday said detectives arrested a 14-year-old boy and accused him of posting a threat to a school on his Snapchat account.Edward Charles Osgood, who attends Lealman Innovation Academy, was a...
Published: 02/17/18
Updated: 02/18/18

Man found dead in flaming mobile home

TAMPA — Firefighters found a man dead inside a burned-down mobile home Saturday.Tampa Fire Rescue got a call just after 4:30 p.m. that a single-wide mobile home at the 100 block of East Linebaugh Avenue was in flames.The man’s identity was not releas...
Published: 02/17/18
‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

Warning: This story quotes graphic material.Before he killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, Nikolas Cruz repeatedly threatened an ex-classmate who had started dating his former girlfriend, according to a report in Buzzfeed News."I’m going ...
Published: 02/17/18

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is not yet clear, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal violen...
Published: 02/17/18