ST. PETERSBURG — About a month ago, 15-year-old Malayshia Gamble ran away from home.
She stayed with various friends. Despite her troubles at home, Malayshia impressed friends' family members with her polite and respectful attitude.
Late Thursday night, Malayshia left a friend's home after getting a phone call. She never returned.
Friday morning, neighbors found her body in a vacant lot in an alley near a house at 856 Preston Ave. S.
Police said Malayshia, a Boca Ciega High School student, had been shot in the upper body. She was fully clothed.
Police reported no arrests in her murder and didn't release any information Friday about potential suspects.
Her murder reminded friends of the perils of leaving home so young.
"Sometimes they just have a mind of their own," said Frances Bentley, 39, a neighbor of Malayshia's family.
Bentley's 14-year-old daughter also was a runaway in 2006. After about a month, Bentley found her daughter and brought her home.
"I was lucky that my daughter was found alive," she said. "It was nothing I did wrong."
Malayshia's mother, Coretta Gilmore, an employee at the Pinellas County Jail, declined to comment Friday when reached by phone at her home. A man who identified himself as her husband said the family was too distraught to speak.
Bentley, who lives across the street from Malayshia's mother, talked to the girl's father on Friday. He said Malayshia told her mother earlier this week that she planned to come home soon.
But friends and police say Malayshia led a tumultuous life over the last month. Gilmore reported her missing Dec. 6.
Friends warned her about the dangers of the street.
"I just told Malayshia she needed to go home last night," said Keshia Butler, a friend of the family. "I'm hurt."
Friends described Malayshia as a pretty and friendly girl.
"She wasn't no troubled person or nothing like that," Butler said.
But she did have a rebellious streak.
In May, Malayshia was arrested on a retail theft charge, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt. Malayshia had run away from home last year as well, Butler said.
This time, she told friends she'd gotten into a disagreement with her mother.
"She said she and her mom had been having problems," said Brittani Wallace, 18, a friend. "I could understand that."
But Wallace said she did not know that Malayshia had been reported as a runaway.
During her time away, Malayshia drifted. On Sunday she ended up at the dinner table of Lauri Hicks. A neighborhood friend had bought Malayshia over, Hicks said.
Hicks, who many call "Auntie," was cooking pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn and biscuits.
"She (Malayshia) was like, 'Auntie, I want some,' " Hicks recalled.
They instantly clicked.
Malayshia was wearing short shorts, and Hicks told her to be careful because "men sometimes take you to be something you're not."
Hicks, a cosmetologist, said she noticed Malayshia's colorful acrylic nails. She said she paid $50 for them, Hicks said. And her hair was freshly done in a romance ponytail, a popular spiral curl style.
"I felt like she didn't have nowhere to go," Hicks said. "I said, 'Honey, if you ever need me don't hesitate to come. I don't care how late it is.' "
At 2 a.m. Tuesday, Malayshia showed up at Hicks' home and asked if she could borrow the phone because she needed to find a place to stay. Hicks said the girl left a few moments later. It was the last time Hicks saw her.
Brittani Wallace said Malayshia stayed with her at her mother's home for the last three days.
She was "very up, up," said Patricia Holloman, Brittani's mother. "Nice, respectful, polite."
On Thursday night, Malayshia and Wallace went to the carnival at Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on 16th Street South.
After enjoying a few rides, the girls left the church at about 9:30 p.m. They stopped at a friend's home to watch some of the national championship college football game before retiring to Wallace's home.
About 10:30 p.m., Malayshia got a phone call and told Wallace she'd be right back. Wallace told her to call on her way home. Malayshia called a while later to say she was returning. But she never showed up, Wallace said.
Her body was found about 8:10 a.m. Friday.
Each month, St. Petersburg police investigate a couple of hundred runaways, Proffitt said. When runaways are reported, their names are entered into the national and state crime information center computer and the case is assigned to an investigator in the youth resources division. Posters are put up in some cases.
"Unfortunately this is the worst-case scenario for the family of the victim," Proffitt said.
Times researcher Will Gorham and staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8828.