LAND O'LAKES — Inside a blue house on Penny Loop, two young men who have been friends for years hosted a small party that stretched past midnight. James "Jamie" Hopkins, a thin 19-year-old with dark hair and fair skin, brought out a shotgun. He emptied the round, authorities said, and passed the gun around to the others at the party. When he got the gun back at about 12:20 a.m. Thursday, he joked around and put the barrel in the mouth of his roommate, Michael "Mikey" Dunkley, 20.
Hopkins didn't force the gun on Dunkley, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said. Dunkley went along with the joke.
Hopkins pulled the trigger, believing it was still empty.
Dunkley was dead.
"It's just an awful, awful tragedy," said Hopkins' mother Denice Moon, who had no idea where her son got the shotgun. "They were just stupid kids...
"My boy is devastated about it."
Hopkins was arrested and charged with manslaughter. Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said Hopkins "didn't intentionally try to kill his friend, but he's still responsible for his actions."
Tobin said someone must have placed the round back into the shotgun while it was being passed around at the party. Witnesses said the atmosphere was light — there was no malice, and Hopkins and Dunkley were just messing around, Tobin said. He said investigators are still looking to see if drugs or alcohol played a role in the shooting.
"You should never point a weapon at anyone," Tobin said, "and always assume a gun is loaded."
Hopkins denied an interview request Thursday from the St. Petersburg Times. This is his first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
No one at the house on Penny Loop wanted to talk about what happened.
Anthony Wright lives across the street and said the young men were good neighbors. They kept to themselves and didn't throw loud parties. Hopkins, who graduated from Wiregrass Ranch High School in 2009, works at Big Lots in Land O'Lakes, according to his Facebook page.
Wright said Dunkley, a 2008 graduate of Land O'Lakes High School, worked at Winn-Dixie and Beef O'Brady's. He said Dunkley lived in that house with his parents and sister for about 10 years — that he died in the house he grew up in. Dunkley's family was unable to be reached Thursday.
"I'm surprised Jamie got charged," Wright said. "I couldn't imagine killing your friend.
"That's hard enough to live with."
Hopkins was held at the Pasco County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.