TAMPA — Public officials have described what Mikese Morse did this week as "deliberate" and "intentional."
His parents want people to know he wasn’t in his right mind.
"This is truly the result of a mental health system failure," said his mother, Khadeeja Morse, two days after her son was accused of intentionally barreling into a bicycling father and his two sons.
In an interview Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Times, she and husband Michael Morse described their family’s decade-long struggle to get their son help for his mental problems, his repeated commitments under the Baker Act, and their sorrow and anger after learning why their son faces a charge of first-degree murder.
"We spent over 10 years trying to prevent our son from getting into a situation where he caused harm," Michael Morse said.
Police said Mikese Morse, 30, an accomplished track and field athlete, was driving along New Tampa Boulevard just before noon Sunday when he saw Pedro Aguerreberry pedaling on an adjacent paved bike path with his son Bennett, 3, in an attached trailer and Lucas, 8, riding his own bike.
Morse turned his Dodge Avenger around, crossed a lane of traffic, tore across a swath of grass and intentionally crashed into the trio, police said. Pedro Aguerreberry died shortly afterward at a local hospital. The younger boy was treated for a broken leg, and the older one suffered minor injuries.
Morse was later tracked down by police at his parents’ home in the Pebble Creek community, not far from the crash. Police said he spoke to them but offered no clear motive. He is being held in the county jail without bail.
The Times has repeatedly tried to contact Pedro Aguerreberry’s wife, Meghan. A reporter visited her home on Monday and left a note. She could not be reached by phone on Tuesday.
Khadeeja Morse, 51, is a human resources executive and her husband Michael, 54, is an antiques dealer. They said they began to notice their son’s mental troubles during his freshman year at the University of South Florida. He would complain that his mind was racing and expressed delusional thoughts, often of a "hyper religious" nature.
"We had never dealt with anything like that," Khadeeja Morse said.
When he was in college, the parents said they consulted with a physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital who told them their son had a psychotic break. They said they tried to get him treatment. Several doctors diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, but his mother said she was never sure if that was correct.
During the next decade, the parents said, he has been held for a mental health assessment under the state’s Baker Act at least four times.
In time, they said Mikese Morse’s delusions waned. Despite his struggles, he still managed to do well in school. He excelled at track and field at the University of South Florida and the University of Miami. He was a three-time U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier and a two-time finalist, in 2008 and 2016.
Recently, he was renting a room from a friend and making money as a driver for Uber Eats, his family said.
But the symptoms always returned.
"He used to go longer periods without these episodes," his mother said. "Now there are fewer and fewer moments of clarity."
Although he would talk about committing harmful acts, his family says Morse was never violent. He has no criminal record.
On June 12, he walked into a Tampa Police Department district office and rambled to an officer about "energy projections" and conspiracies. He told the officer not to let him leave the police station or he might hurt someone.
"The one person who did the right thing was the officer who Baker Acted our son," Michael Morse said.
His parents said he was taken to Gracepoint. A spokeswoman for the Tampa facility declined to discuss the Morse case, citing medical privacy laws.
The Baker Act requires a court hearing if someone is to be held involuntarily for longer than three days. The parents said Gracepoint held Mikese Morse for a week. His parents said a lawyer visited their son, perhaps to discuss extending his stay there, though they could not say for sure.
"They clearly had concerns about him, which is why they kept him there longer than a week," Khadeeja Morse said.
During the visit, the parents said, their son attacked the lawyer.
"It made me and my wife feel like, this is going to increase the amount of time that he needs to be there," Michael Morse said.
But for reasons that remain unknown, Mikese Morse was allowed to leave Gracepoint on June 19 — five days before Sunday’s attack.
"I don’t know if they got mad and said, ‘We’re going to throw this guy out of here,’?" the father said.
When he left, Morse carried paperwork. It included information about where to go for medication. But in what his parents believe was a continuing psychotic state, their son couldn’t understand it.
In videos posted to his Instagram page shortly before the fatal crash, Morse rambled about "energies changing" and the devil having power over him. He was supposed to visit his parents’ home for dinner on Sunday. They were planning to go help him go over his discharge paperwork.
He showed up unexpectedly around midday. The police weren’t far behind.
Officers allowed them to pray with their son before he was taken into custody, the parents said. They haven’t seen him since.
His mother later took to Facebook to defend him and excoriate a mental health system that she says let him down.
"See this pic? This is my son, Mikese," she wrote beside a photo of herself and her son. "You will see other pics of him but this is the one I want you to remember."
She offered condolences to the Aguerreberry family and urged readers to help reform a flawed system. She tagged the accounts of local, state and national officials.
"We HAVE to do something!" she wrote. "The only thing I know to do is to share our story."
The post summoned an outpouring of support and prayers.
"My heart is shattered for the Aguerreberry family," one of Mikese Morse’s childhood friends wrote in a comment to the mother, "but it is also broken for yours."
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.