ST. PETERSBURG — Bradley Bernard Bolden couldn't live by himself. He needed someone to make sure he remembered to turn off the stove or help with his laundry. He didn't drive. He was polite, but kind of strange. He was a follower.
The portrait painted of Bolden, 20, by his family and neighbors is much different than the one police describe.
That Bolden is a member of the "54 Boyz" street gang. That Bolden calls himself "badazz" on Facebook under a photo of him flashing gang signs. And that Bolden is the one who police said aimed a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol at a private security officer and kept shooting until he fell dead.
Mathew F. Little, 26, was shot in the back of the head just after 1 a.m. Monday while patrolling the Mariner's Pointe Apartment complex. But it wasn't until 24 hours later that police got the first tip, and a name: Bradley Bolden. More tips followed. Police found a witness, and, at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, their suspect.
A day after his arrest on a charge of first-degree murder, Bolden's aunt and guardian Jackie Gilliam insisted that her nephew doesn't have the mental or physical capacity to commit murder.
"He didn't do it," she said Wednesday. "They got the wrong kid."
But St. Petersburg Maj. Mike Kovacsev said police are confident. Not only did Bolden admit to the slaying, the major said, he revealed details that only the shooter could have known.
"You have an eyewitness who put him at the scene," Kovacsev said. "He put himself at the scene. He knew how many shots were fired. He knew where the individual was shot."
After police were done interviewing him, Kovacsev said Bolden asked detectives to deliver this message to the security officer's loved ones:
"Tell the family I'm sorry."
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The private security firm Critical Intervention Services last heard from Little at 1 a.m. Monday when he told dispatch he was going on foot patrol.
St. Petersburg police officers were summoned to the complex at 1:14 a.m. because someone reported gunshots. Finding nothing, they left at 1:51 a.m.
By then, Little had failed to check in. The security company called police, and officers returned at 1:59 a.m.
They found Little lying dead by the pool and tennis courts, between two pickups. His 9mm semiautomatic was gone.
A witness told police they saw Bolden run from the complex carrying two guns. Police arrested him Tuesday night as he walked near the complex. Police were still looking for the guns.
During questioning, Kovacsev said Bolden incriminated himself, saying essentially: "I admit doing it."
He also "made a curt statement that he didn't care for police or security," Kovacsev said.
Police believe Bolden was motivated by more than his dislike of authority, but they don't know what led to the shooting.
"There was no confrontation," the major said. "No issues between the two of them, nothing historical."
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Gilliam has raised Bolden since he was 8. His mother in Georgia was unable to care for him, she said, and his father was never in the picture.
It was apparent from a young age that her nephew wasn't like other kids, she said. He sometimes got into fights with bullies.
He was diagnosed with a low IQ and has always been in special education classes. He graduated from St. Petersburg High last year and is currently attending Richard L. Sanders School, where students are classified as severely emotionally disturbed.
"He really wasn't a bad kid to me," said neighbor Latrece Washington, who said Bolden often shot hoops with her kids.
Other neighbors described him as polite, if not a little odd. They would see him talking or rapping to himself.
The Mariner's Pointe apartment complex is a known hangout for the "54 Boyz" street gang.
K.C. Poulin, the security firm's president and CEO, said they have been dealing with the gang for years.
"We trespass them. Many of them are now in jail," he said.
The firm's officers had encountered Bolden in the complex before, police said, and detectives are reviewing those logs.
Bolden would tell people he was there to hang with friends. His family said that wasn't true.
"They weren't his friends," Gilliam said. "He just wanted to fit in, but he was easily led."
Bolden has just one arrest on his record, for obstruction in April 2010. He was hiding from a mounted police officer in a downtown parking garage, police said. The charge was dropped.
His aunt denied that he is in any kind of gang, and said there is no way he killed Little.
Matt Bolden said his nephew spent the weekend at his Jordan Park home.
The 20-year-old couldn't drive and didn't have friends with cars, the uncle said: "He couldn't leave without me knowing. He can barely tie his shoes."
Bolden's family said they believe he was framed by someone who wanted the $15,000 reward.
"We're very sorry for that family," Matt Bolden said. "We wanted this person caught desperately too.
"But Bradley's not that guy.
• • •
Little's fiancée, Suzan Leyczek, said she and his parents were elated by the arrest, but also saddened. An arrest means there will be a trial.
"It kind of makes it worse. You're staring at the person that last saw Mathew alive," Leyczek, 27, said as she cried. "I don't know if I actually want to do that."
A service for Little will be held May 28 at Twin Lakes Park in his hometown, Sarasota.
Little's death is another blow to a city that lost three police officers in the line of duty earlier this year. One officer was shot by a 16-year-old prowler he tried to question, police said.
The suspect in that officer's death, Nicholas Lindsey, is charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Like Bolden, police say he also was affiliated with a local gang.
St. Petersburg's police chief said he sees something familiar — and harrowing — linking the two young males who now reside in the same jail.
"We have a lot of good kids in this community," police Chief Chuck Harmon said. "But we have a few, not just in St. Pete, but across the country, who have been shown to devalue life, to resent authority, whether it's on the streets or in the classroom. It's disturbing . . . but I don't have the answer.
"We need to do something different because we're losing too many people."
Staff writers Danny Valentine, Curtis Krueger and Ileana Morales and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.