TEMPLE TERRACE — After setting off fireworks with relatives, a Tampa man took his 6-year-old son aside at an apartment complex Friday night and stabbed him more than 20 times, authorities said.
He then threw the bloody child over a 6-foot fence into a wooded area, leaving him for dead, and returned to the party as if nothing had happened, Hillsborough County sheriff's detective Mark Greer reported.
The father, Xavier Dequan Thomas Sr., 23, was arrested at 1:06 a.m. Saturday on a charge of attempted murder, jail records show.
Family members say he is mentally ill.
The boy, Xavier Jr., survived wounds to the back, chest, neck and arms. His liver was lacerated, but the injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, the detective wrote in an arrest affidavit.
Sheriff's officials described the wounds as punctures, but did not find the weapon that was used.
Xavier Jr. identified his father as the attacker.
The man's sister, 24-year-old Terenesha Thomas, said the boy had come to stay with her for the holiday. They were shooting off fireworks in her apartment complex parking lot when the father asked to spend time alone with Xavier Jr.
"He seemed really sincere," she said. "He put his arm around him and we didn't think anything of it."
Thirty minutes later, she started to walk toward the playground to look for her nephew when she saw her brother walking alone. She said she asked where her nephew was and Thomas said, "I gotta go, I gotta go," and ran.
She screamed the boy's name and called 911. The Sheriff's Office put a helicopter up, but before deputies could find him, the boy came staggering back from 58th Street drenched in blood.
"I asked him who did it," she said. "He said, 'My dad.' I asked with what. He said, 'A knife.' "
She held her nephew and consoled him until paramedics arrived, she said.
Terenesha Thomas said that her brother was released from a mental health center a week ago and had hit another patient the day he was released.
"You've got to understand my brother's got mental problems," she said.
Xavier Thomas Sr.'s grandmother, Yvonne Mickles, said he has had problems since he witnessed two murders in 2004.
"That one boy was shot in the head and he died in Xavier's arms," she said. "He hasn't been right since then."
Mickles said her grandson would talk to the ghost of a murdered boy and had been committed at least five times.
"I've taken him everywhere the state says to take people and they keep letting him out without getting him help."
The Sheriff's Office said the incident occurred about 11:37 p.m. Friday in an apartment complex at 11726 58th St. The agency released a Palm River address for Thomas, but his grandmother said he hasn't lived there in years. She said she put him in an assisted-living facility, but he walked away.
The boy's mother, Adrienne C. Butler, was not at the party.
A family friend who answered the door at Butler's home Saturday afternoon said she was at the hospital with her son.
He was listed in serious but stable condition at St. Joseph's Hospital.
His father was found walking on 50th Street near Interstate 4 shortly after the attack. He did not give a motive for the stabbing, authorities said.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that Thomas has been arrested 13 times since age 14, including repeated arrests related to sale and possession of cocaine and other drugs. Drug convictions brought him an 18-month prison sentence in 2007.
His son was born in November 2004, and less than a year later, Thomas was charged with domestic violence battery. The case ultimately was dropped.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.