DADE CITY — Harleme Larry came home in the wee hours Saturday morning. Authorities say the 14-year-old told friends and neighbors he had robbed, shot and killed a man — all for $4.
But neighbors didn't report Larry until they heard deputies were searching for a suspect in the killing of Agustin Hernandez, 31, just a half mile from Larry's house. The three men with Hernandez had said the shooter wore a red bandanna.
Larry, nicknamed "Harley," always wore a red bandanna.
After a weekend of investigation, Pasco County sheriff's deputies arrested the Land O'Lakes High School student Monday night on a charge of first-degree murder.
The motive, authorities say, was the cash Larry pocketed before shooting Hernandez. Hernandez's friends said it may have been much more than $4, Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said.
Whatever the amount, authorities believe Larry — who lost his father to prison and his mother to murder — ended up killing a father of two.
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Larry was 3 years old when his mother, Theresa Vargas, was found murdered in the doorway of a Dade City flophouse. Her husband, Jeremy Vargas, was convicted in 2002 of bludgeoning her to death with a heavy, metal audiotape player. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The couple had been addicted to crack cocaine, authorities said, and Theresa Vargas had worked as a prostitute.
The day Jeremy Vargas' trial began, Theresa Vargas' mother, Lessie Bradberry of Dade City, told reporters she believed he had abused her daughter.
"He abused her kids, too," she said.
Bradberry raised Larry and his two siblings.
Larry's father, Michael Larry, now 40, has spent the past two decades in and out of prison. His prior stints included sentences for burglary, car theft, grand theft, cocaine possession and other convictions, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
He is now inmate No. 758350 at Sumter Correctional Institution, serving a 15-year sentence for robbery and a five-year sentence for passing a forged check.
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Authorities say Hernandez and three other men were walking on Oak Street about 1:41 a.m. Saturday when Harleme Larry robbed them at gunpoint, then shot Hernandez. Hernandez, who lived in Dade City, died at the hospital.
Tips led deputies to the home at 37526 Oakview Circle that Larry shares with his grandmother. Larry told deputies that he pulled the gun in self-defense after Hernandez swung a beer bottle at him. The gun fired accidentally, he said.
On Sunday, he told deputies, he rode his bicycle to a nearby lake and threw the black .45 caliber handgun into it. Deputies are searching for the gun, Doll said.
Larry has been arrested before on charges ranging from interfering with school administrative functions and battery on an education employee to burglary. He pleaded no contest to burglary charges in January 2009 and March 2009.
The State Attorney's Office has not yet decided whether to charge Larry, who turns 15 next month, as an adult in the homicide.
"It's been a while since it was someone so young" arrested on such a serious charge, Doll said.
In an interview with Bay News 9, a St. Petersburg Times coverage partner, Larry's uncle, Charles Lee, described him as a "good kid" who visited him almost every day.
"He ain't a kid that I know would do something like that," Lee said of the shooting. "He's a good kid."
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Across town from Oakview Circle, friends and family mourned for Hernandez, a demolition worker who lived on Mary Bill Lane with his wife and two young children. One is just a few months old.
His wife, Ofelia, and other relatives are trying to come up with the money to send Hernandez's body back to Mexico, where he was born. They plan to knock on doors to collect funds, neighbor Isabel Montes said.
Luis Godinez, who rented a house to Hernandez and has known him for about four years, described Hernandez as a good father, an outgoing man who made friends easily.
"When we heard about him dying, our hearts fell down," Godinez said.
Times staff writer Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Vivian Yee can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.