TAMPA — Before he was charged with the murder of a Tampa police officer, Humberto Delgado Jr.'s only brush with the law was a speeding ticket.
Like the officer, Delgado had worn a police badge and served in the U.S. Army. He, too, was a father — two boys, one girl.
But Delgado's family says he was depressed and bipolar, on and off medication, a wanderer, in and out of communication with them. At 34, he was an insomniac.
"These damn dreams ...," he would tell his cousin Omairae Hurst, calling in the middle of the night, reeling from combat flashbacks.
But U.S. Army officials say he never fought overseas.
His family can't fathom what he might have been thinking when a Tampa police officer approached him in the dark streets of Sulphur Springs on Wednesday night.
• • •
Delgado hadn't been homeless long.
He was born in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. On summer breaks from high school, he participated in a legislature program and worked in U.S. Customs and as a 4-H camp counselor. Records show he graduated in 1993 and took some college classes before enlisting in the police academy in 1995.
Delgado became an officer in the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department in 1996 and resigned in 2000. Four years later, he joined the U.S. Army, following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Military Police and National Guard.
The son worked as a petroleum supply specialist. He earned a National Defense Service Medal, awarded to men and women who served during wartime, the Global War on Terrorism Service medal, given for service while the nation is engaged against terrorists, and the Army Service Ribbon, signifying he graduated from advanced individual training.
But while on duty, Delgado hurt his knee and back in an accident, his family said — injuries from which he never recovered. Army records show he was honorably discharged from the base hospital, the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C.
• • •
Four years later, televisions flashed the image of a homeless man writhing in a police cruiser. Delgado's family said he was almost unrecognizable. It was the same man smiling in photos by the Christmas tree, and playing with his kids and dogs. A guy so smart, he could take anything apart and rebuild it.
Well, almost anything.
He needed help rebuilding his life, they said. He never got it.
"I'm very, very sorry that this police officer lost his life and that his wife and kids won't have a father," Humberto Delgado Sr. said. "But this is a guy who needed help."
Tampa's police chief told reporters mental illness was irrelevant to the investigation.
• • •
Delgado wore dreadlocks. He spoke of peace, and God, and looking at the bright side. A neighbor said he limped on a cane. His family said his medications didn't alleviate his pain. He would work jobs for a week or two, but said his injuries didn't allow him to stay.
He used to live with his girlfriend and son in North Carolina, but left because he was unable to provide for them, Hurst said. He felt powerless. He moved to Florida and lived with his uncle in Oldsmar for a while.
His father and stepmother said they heard from him in spurts. He would talk to them for three or four days straight, then they would hear nothing.
In recent weeks, Delgado told a friend that his uncle was pressuring him to leave. He told his cousins that his uncle didn't want Delgado's pet pit bulls in his yard and disapproved of his long hair. His father and stepmother said he left because he wanted independence.
Early Monday, a Pinellas sheriff's deputy found him sleeping in a picnic pavilion at about 1 a.m., in a park close to his uncle's house. He noted that he had seen Delgado walking hours earlier, carrying a large backpack in desert camouflage.
Delgado told the deputy he was a disabled veteran who needed a place to live. He said he had a storage locker nearby and was trying to obtain government help with housing. The deputy told him this had to be the last morning he spent in the park. Delgado said he understood, and the encounter ended peacefully.
He last talked to his stepmother, Annette Delgado, on Tuesday. She said he sounded frustrated, recounting the numerous visits to the Veterans Affairs office, only to be told to come back later. He had no transportation, and struggled to keep those appointments.
VA officials said they could not confirm any information about Delgado, citing privacy laws.
He said the VA had promised him a place to live on Monday, but only offered him a bed with veterans who had physical and mental problems.
He was really upset, she said. He told her the people looked very sick. He would try once more, he said, but go to a different office for help.
That was the last his family heard from him, until Wednesday, when, police say, his uncle got a late night phone call.
"I shot a police officer," he told his uncle. "I think I killed him."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers William R. Levesque, Jared Leone, Richard Martin and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.