DADE CITY — Born in Tennessee, raised in Alabama, Charles Haag was a man in transit.
He spent most of his adult life between odd jobs, in steel factories and tree tops and oil rigs, said his sister, Mary White. Haag, 32, would spend his pay on crack cocaine, the addiction that followed him for years. Most times he would end up where he started, at home with White and their mother in Tuscaloosa.
"He never really stayed in one point for too long," White said. "Whenever he got tired of where he was, he always came back to his momma."
His lifelines were his letters home, sent about once a week. He wrote that he loved his family, and missed them, and that soon he would, as White said, "make something of himself." He wrote he was sorry for not being the perfect son. Then he would disappear.
Weeks ago, the letters stopped. White, 23, and her mother, Teresa Hughes, knew something was wrong. Pasco deputies found Haag's body in the woods last week north of San Antonio, near where he had lived in Dade City. He had been brutally stabbed and rolled up in a tarp.
Justin Lee Naber, 24, a roommate of Haag's, was arrested Saturday morning in Pembroke Pines as a suspect in his murder. Detectives haven't said why they think he did it.
Haag and his family had worried for years about the risks of his addiction. He had smoked crack, White said, since he was a teenager, a high school dropout honorably discharged from the Army National Guard. The drug, she said, kept him on the move. He seemed always to follow it and run from it at the same time.
"He knew that it wasn't safe. He knew the people he'd come across because of it were dangerous," White said. "There were plenty of times he thought somebody was gonna kill him."
For years, he promised he would quit.
"He tried," White said. "It was definitely not something he wanted for himself. He just wasn't strong enough to fight it."
Last summer, he returned home to his mother from the Tuscaloosa County Jail after serving time for driving without a license. The next day he disappeared again. His family, White said, knew he was smoking crack again. They told him he needed to leave.
"I felt bad for having to put my foot down," White said. "He felt bad because he knew that I was right."
He told them later he had moved to Florida, moving between Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Dade City. He still sent letters to Tuscaloosa.
It was 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, about a week before deputies say he was murdered, when he sent his last message home.
"I have become even a stronger survivor," Haag wrote on Facebook. "I will be OK."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.