TAMPA — In the car, the mother pleaded with her motionless son to wake up, she says.
His name was Alexis but he longed to be Astro Boy. He was 3. She kissed his nose, his hands, his cheek, all the way to St. Joseph's Hospital on Monday. It was too late.
Her boyfriend, who had been babysitting, cried and said the child had fallen, she says, but doctors told her this was no fall.
"They said he was beaten up," Itzaira DeJesus said Thursday in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
Sheriff's investigators questioned the boyfriend, 27-year-old Michell Blanco, then let him go. He vanished. Now, there's a warrant out for his arrest on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
"I don't even want to consider him my boyfriend," said DeJesus, 21. "I don't want to consider him anything."
The last time DeJesus spoke to her son was Monday, when she took a break from her job cleaning houses to check on him. Blanco put him on the phone, she said.
Alexis sounded delighted that he got to feed bread to the ducks in the pond just outside their apartment at 6225 N Dale Mabry Highway.
The last thing she recalls hearing from him: "I love you, Mommy."
Hours later, Blanco called DeJesus to say that Alexis had fallen and was unconscious, she said. DeJesus rushed home to find her son lying motionless, struggling to breathe.
He had a bruise on his head, she said.
She wrapped her arms around him as Blanco drove them to St. Joseph's Hospital.
"He was struggling to breathe," she said. "I was trying to shake him to get him to wake up, but nothing."
There, doctors performed emergency surgery for a severe head injury, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.
DeJesus said doctors told her Alexis had multiple concussions and bruising on his ribs and around his abdominal area, and that his injuries appeared fresh.
He was declared dead Tuesday.
Blanco, who had stayed with DeJesus at the hospital, cried, she said.
"I asked him, I begged him to tell me the truth," DeJesus said. "He said he had nothing to do with it."
Hospital staff called the Sheriff's Office and detectives arrived, DeJesus said. They told DeJesus and Blanco to follow them to the Falkenburg Road Jail in their own car. Investigators questioned the couple for about 20 minutes before releasing them, DeJesus said.
Blanco drove them back to the hospital. The entire ride back, Blanco cried and denied hurting Alexis, the mother said.
"He has a 5-year-old son," DeJesus said. "He kept saying he wouldn't do that to his son, so he wouldn't do that to Alexis."
DeJesus said she told Blanco that if he didn't have anything to hide, he should take a lie detector test.
"He dropped me back off at the hospital and that was the last time I saw him," DeJesus said.
In the days since, detectives have been "gathering evidence and wanted to consult with the medical examiner to piece it all together," sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.
On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office declared the death a homicide, and authorities moved forward with a warrant for Blanco's arrest.
Blanco's record in Florida reflects two arrests, one in 2006 and one in 2004, both for driving-related infractions.
DeJesus said she and Blanco had been together since November. He was laid off from his job at a pest control company so he watched Alexis as DeJesus worked.
"He was always great with my son," she said. "My son was never afraid of him. He used to love playing with him and just being around him."
DeJesus said she initially believed that her son had fallen.
But detectives told her that it appeared that Alexis was hit in the head with a hard object, she said.
The medical examiner performed an autopsy. Spokesman Dick Bailey said the child's organs had been harvested. He said organ donation generally is permitted even in deaths under investigation by law enforcement.
DeJesus, a Gaither High School graduate, raised Alexis on her own. The boy's father saw little of him — at birth, and then at the hospital when he died. But Alexis was loved, DeJesus said. He was close to his maternal grandparents and had a younger sister.
He was a happy child who liked giving hugs and kisses. He loved animals, but mainly ducks, turtles and dogs. He threw tantrums, like young children often do, DeJesus said, but he got along well with others.
He idolized Astro Boy and called himself Toby after the evil-fighting cartoon character.
When he died, his heart went to another little boy in South Carolina, and his liver and kidneys saved the lives of children in Florida.
"He was a hero," DeJesus said. "He's my hero."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org