An 18-year-old voted "Most Likely to Succeed" last year at Jefferson High School told sheriff's investigators he had long thought about killing his mother.
When he woke up Monday, her 39th birthday, he resolved to finally do it, investigators said.
Joshua Leon Carmona beat Tahirih Lua D'Angelo with a baseball bat and stabbed her in the neck with a butcher knife, killing her, according to a Hillsborough County sheriff's arrest report.
The attack occurred about noon at the townhouse where they have lived since October, 6916 Hawthorne Trace Lane. Her father-in-law, Bob D'Angelo, found her body wrapped in a comforter in a downstairs bathroom about 4 p.m. and alerted authorities.
D'Angelo went to the house because he suspected something was wrong, he told the Tampa Bay Times. Carmona had texted him earlier that day to see if D'Angelo could babysit his 3-year-old half-sister while his mother and stepfather, Stephen D'Angelo, went out for her birthday that night. But when the elder D'Angelo asked his son where he planned to take his wife, he said there were no plans. They had celebrated earlier that week.
Even D'Angelo's worst fears were no match for what he discovered in his son's townhome, he said.
"Reality still hasn't sunk in yet that Josh did this," D'Angelo said. "He was a very quiet kid, always kept his cards close to his chest. I could never really read him."
At a news conference Tuesday, Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said Carmona told investigators the slaying was motivated by "ongoing family issues," but would not elaborate.
"He had been planning to kill his mother and stepfather for a period of time," Lusczynski said.
Four months earlier, Carmona was arrested in connection with a violent car theft in Pennsylvania. He was in the middle of his first semester of college in New York but withdrew to move back home with his mother and step-father. He got a job selling sunglasses at a kiosk in the Westfield Brandon mall, D'Angelo said. His mother put her own education on hold to help him and he was getting weekly counseling.
"We were told he was making progress," D'Angelo said. "She was Josh's rock. She was a very loving mom and supportive of both her children. She was concerned with Josh getting on the right path."
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Carmona graduated in the top 5 percent of his class last spring from Jefferson High, where the 2016 yearbook shows he was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" and "Most Likely to Become President." He played baseball in local leagues but was never very involved in after-school activities, D'Angelo said. In August he enrolled at Fordham, the Jesuit university in New York City.
His mother was 20 when Carmona was born and his early childhood was spent with his grandmother while his mother worked out of state. When he was 11 Tahirih D'Angelo moved back to Tampa to help care for him full-time, Bob D'Angelo said. The boy's grandmother died a few months later.
In the hours after he killed his mother, Carmona told a friend he was considering killing himself, investigators said. He had planned to do so in November, when he rented a U-Haul pickup truck and drove from New York to Tampa for Thanksgiving. He stayed with friends over the holiday and while driving back to New York got the idea "to commit suicide under the stars" at Bushkill Falls, known as the "Niagara of Pennsylvania."
That's what he told Pennsylvania State Police when he was arrested Nov. 30 on charges including car theft and harassment for shoving a woman and stealing her Jeep Liberty in Middlebury Township, Penn. He said his rental truck ran out of gas and he intended to sleep in the stolen vehicle while it was running.
The victim in that case, Dianne Ruth Gee, said Tuesday she was "pretty rattled" to learn of the slaying.
"I'm just sitting here shaking in my shoes because I very well could have been that victim," Gee told the Times.
Carmona also was recently arrested on DUI charges in Georgia, Lusczynski said. Yet neither his family nor the therapists and counselors he saw after moving back home saw signs that Carmona could be violent toward others, Bob D'Angelo said. He calls Carmona his step-grandson, and said the boy seemed to be enjoying time with his young sister and family.
"It is a big leap from pushing someone to the ground to killing your mother," D'Angelo said.
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Tahirih Lua D'Angelo, Tara to friends and family, was interested in radiology and had been pursuing an associate's degree at St. Petersburg College until withdrawing from school in May. She was working in the pharmacy at Walmart on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa, her father-in-law said.
She was a single mother to Josh in 2009 when she met Stephen D'Angelo. He was 8 years younger than her and shared her love of baseball. They married in 2012.
They celebrated her birthday early, on Saturday, with a meal at the Cheesecake Factory. On Monday, she had planned a manicure and pedicure, followed by a relaxing evening at home.
That's why Bob D'Angelo, a journalist who worked in sports at the Tampa Tribune, was puzzled while texting with Carmona on Monday afternoon.
Carmona said his mother and stepfather were going out for her birthday and had asked him to babysit. But he had no experience, he told D'Angelo, who agreed to babysit and offered to come to the townhouse. Carmona said he would drop the girl off. He said he was driving the Nissan Sentra his mother had bought a few days earlier, an act that made D'Angelo uneasy given Carmona's driving history.
Later that day, D'Angelo sent his daughter-in-law a birthday greeting on Facebook and received a reply saying she was getting ready to go out. When D'Angelo texted his son and learned there was no celebration planned, he asked for the security code to their townhouse and drove there.
He later realized his daughter-in-law likely did not send the Facebook message.
He found her in the first floor bathroom, wrapped face down in a comforter.
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Carmona struck his mother in the face with a baseball bat, knocking her to the floor, a sheriff's report said. He continued to hit her until she lost consciousness. Then he grabbed a butcher's knife and inflicted a deep wound in her neck.
"I can't tell you how awful it was to find her like this," D'Angelo said. "She was a good woman. She didn't deserve this."
Carmona drove away from the home after the slaying, the sheriff's report said, and picked up his half-sister from a Riverview day care. He then met an unidentified friend in Providence Park to play basketball. He had planned to return home after the game, where he would kill his stepfather the same way.
He told the friend he "killed somebody and he was going to prison for a long time," according to the arrest report. He also said he was contemplating killing himself. The friend took the 3-year-old and returned her to family.
Deputies were on the lookout for the Nissan and spotted it about 9:30 p.m. heading north on Interstate 275 near Hillsborough Avenue. A deputy pulled the car over and Carmona got out and threw himself to the ground.
He told investigators about the slaying and where to find the bat and knife in the townhouse. He said he tried to clean the carpet with baking soda.
Sheriff's deputies called Stephen D'Angelo and told him something had happened at home, but didn't tell him his wife was dead until later that evening, when he wasn't holding his daughter, Bob D'Angelo said. When Stephen received the news, he "crumbled," D'Angelo said.
"He loved her very much, we all did, and we don't want her to be remembered as someone who was snuffed out needlessly," D'Angelo said. "She was so loving and she was so loved."
Times senior researcher John Martin and staff writers Tony Marrero and Sara DiNatale contributed to this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected]