ST. PETERSBURG — Jeremy Mayers' family isn't sure how long he'd known Brittany Detwiler.
The pair recently had started chatting on Facebook and texting.
"Apparently it was long enough that he felt comfortable with her, that he thought she was a good person," said Martha Henderson, Mayers' aunt.
Henderson and others now believe that budding friendship led to Mayers' death.
Early Sunday morning, police said, Detwiler, who is 16, and at least one other teen robbed Mayers when he arrived at a home in St. Petersburg's Coquina Key neighborhood.
They beat the 20-year-old St. Petersburg College student with a shotgun, then choked him until he passed out, authorities said. They left him in the front yard and took his wallet, cellphone and green Chevy Impala.
No one noticed him there until about 5 a.m., when police were called to the neighborhood for a nearby — but unrelated — hit-and-run crash caused by a pair of joyriding juveniles.
Officers investigating the accident, on Sunfish Drive SE, discovered Mayers on the lawn at 3632 Sea Robin Drive SE, a rental just around the corner. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Bayfront Medical Center.
On Tuesday, police arrested Detwiler and Scionti Hill, 16, both of St. Petersburg, on charges of first-degree murder. Detwiler, detectives said, admitted to orchestrating the robbery. Witnesses told police Mayers tried to fight back.
"Based on how the investigation progresses, there could be other arrests," police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
Police said the investigation into Mayers' death is still very active.
They determined Monday the crash that ultimately led them to Mayers body was not related to the homicide. A cause of death is still pending an investigation by the Medical Examiner's Office.
As of Tuesday night, police still hadn't found his car, which has a tag of X267AP.
"He was very trusting," Henderson said of her nephew. "Maybe too trusting."
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Mayers, Henderson said, was born and raised in St. Petersburg. He was the third of four boys.
He graduated a couple of years ago from Lakewood High School, and was studying music and business at St. Petersburg College. He liked to write songs, and worked at a Sweetbay Supermarket near his home at 921 64th Ave. S. He also liked to restore old cars.
His mother was too distraught to talk about her son Tuesday.
"He was a good kid," his father, Tony Mayers, said. "A sweet boy."
It was still unclear Tuesday exactly when Mayers first met Detwiler. His family believes the teen convinced Mayers she was older. They said they knew the two interacted through social media, and had met face to face at least once. The house where police said Mayers was attacked is a neighborhood hang-out frequented by teens, neighbors said.
Tony Mayers said he last saw his son Saturday afternoon. The family called police to report him missing when they hadn't heard from him by Sunday afternoon.
"He had this warmth about him. He will truly be missed by his family and friends," Henderson said. "It was just senseless. But it does bring some comfort, knowing police have arrested someone."
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Records show Detwiler does not have a criminal record, but Hill does.
He was first arrested at age 9 on a battery charge, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The charges, for everything from shoplifting to stealing cars, piled up over the next several years. He was released last month after spending most of the spring in juvenile detention.
Hill's family on Tuesday acknowledged his past brushes with the law. But they said they do not believe he killed Mayers.
They said they'd never heard of Detwiler or Mayers. They said Hill spent his days in the Childs Park area and wasn't familiar with Coquina Key.
"That's why we're saying there's more to this," said Michelle Holmes, 27, who has been Hill's guardian for the past few years. "It's not adding up."
Holmes said she took the boy in so he wouldn't end up in foster care. Hill has struggled with mental health and anger issues, she said. Eight months ago, he became a father.
His relatives had recently been counseling him about making better choices. Holmes said she gave him money each week for doing his chores: taking out the garbage, washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom.
Holmes said police showed up at her door about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. She thought they were going to tell her Hill had stolen a car. But detectives told her the charges were far more serious.
A few hour later, she said she spoke to Hill. He cried on the phone, and said he hadn't murdered anyone.
Holmes and her family crowded around a TV Tuesday afternoon, waiting for more news. They said they plan to hire a lawyer.
"We're just praying they're wrong," said cousin Norma Myers, 31. "We're not going to stop until we get to the bottom of this."
Detwiler's family declined comment on Tuesday. A woman who answered the door at her home was in tears.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643.