The dark-haired Boy Scout made friends at synagogue and had a Dalmatian named Princess. His mother watched him play soccer and bought him snacks at Barnes & Noble. His grandfather, a retired doctor, took him on jaunts to Sanibel Island. Smiles in family photographs convey a happy life. But by age 12, Jared Cano had been kicked out of middle school for threatening a teacher.
It was not the first sign of a tumultuous childhood, which ended on Aug. 16, 2011, when police accused Jared of planning a massacre at Freedom High School, where he had been a student before being expelled in 2010.
Now 18, he is being charged as an adult and has pleaded no contest. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday, and he faces up to 37 years in prison.
Court records and police reports, as well as accounts from those who knew him, describe a rocky young life punctuated by arrests, expulsions and visits to a psychiatrist.
But what leads a troubled teen to draw bloody figures and talk about killing with bombs, guns and a machete? What leads him to gather bomb-making materials and write formulas for explosives?
What happened to Jared Cano?
• • •
Jared was born in 1994 in Nashville, Tenn. His mother had recently graduated from Vanderbilt with degrees in math and computer science. His father was a janitor who stayed home with the baby.
The couple posed for photos by a three-tiered cake at their traditional Jewish wedding, Michelle Cano's smile as big as her towering veil.
Then Jared's sister was born, and everyone moved to Florida, where Michelle got a consulting job with a technology company.
The family visited Fort DeSoto and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Somewhere along the way, things began to fall apart.
By December 1997 — when Jared was just 3 — a Hillsborough judge wrote that she had "serious concerns" about the couple's use of alcohol. She ordered the two to attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
They divorced a year later, and Michelle got sole custody of the children. Though leading separate lives, the couple's problems continued.
Alexander Cano started showing up at his ex-wife's apartment complex and at the children's extracurricular activities.
He watched them play basketball, court records state, and called Michelle to tell her what the kids had been wearing.
She called it stalking. He says he just wanted to see his children.
The children, their mother wrote to a judge, had begun to see their father as a boogeyman. They said they heard noises at their bedroom window.
"Jared is terrified to go to bed and is in tears," she wrote, "afraid that his Daddy is going to get him."
Michelle Cano and her parents have declined to speak to a reporter before Jared's sentencing. Jared has spent the past 14 months in jail, so it is unclear if he resented his father for these incidents, if he truly was afraid of the man.
However, a friend shared a startling accusation with police: Jared has said his father tried to kill him.
Alexander Cano told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that Jared has called from jail, accusing his father of throwing him in the pool as a child.
The father denies it.
"He's the love of my life," Alexander Cano told a reporter. "Why would I hurt him?"
Nonetheless, a list of injustices punctuates a police report:
Jared said his parents were drug addicts. He lived on fish sticks for a month. His father tried to kill him.
• • •
Jared lived in a cluttered New Tampa apartment, filled with books and trophies and family photographs.
Police knew him well.
Since Jared was 12, they have accused him of a litany of crimes.
They say he burglarized a car and cut through a neighbor's patio screen. He ran away and spent several days in the woods with a friend.
His mother thought he was hanging around the wrong crowd. She told police Jared wouldn't listen.
He trespassed, skipped school and carried a stun gun around his apartment complex.
A neighbor called police, afraid. A maintenance man said Jared was trouble.
Once, police caught him carrying an unloaded gun. When they confronted Jared, then 15, at his apartment, he brandished a metal baseball bat.
School officials expelled him from Freedom. He enrolled at North Tampa Alternative School.
But by age 17, Jared was unemployed and didn't attend school. His mother worked as a math teacher. Jared would smoke marijuana and trash the house when she left.
Jared hadn't seen his father in years, but his grandparents lived nearby. They were worried.
Jared's grandfather, Michael Butler, paid Jared to do chores. A friend said the teen used that money to buy marijuana.
Butler had noticed the boy was depressed. He asked Jared if he was going to "do a Columbine." Jared became really upset.
Jared said he overheard his grandfather share concerns with Jared's therapist, the one who prescribed medication the teen didn't take.
The boy wrote about his feelings:
Nobody understands me. Not my mom, not my grandparents, not dr. lupo.
He had secrets on the computer in his living room, on his phone and in his bedroom.
His mother stayed out of his room. He was a teenager, she reasoned. She gave him his privacy.
Investigators say he visited bomb-making websites and downloaded a video game based on the Columbine massacre. He gathered pipes, fertilizer, bags of small metal bits and a soldering iron.
Authorities say he was on his way to making bombs. His defense attorney has proof those materials were not sufficient.
Jared saved a note on his phone:
"My mother hates me. … If only she knew. … If only they all knew. … I'm a lost cause. Destined to teach a lesson with bloodshed. Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten. …"
In his dresser drawer, he kept a journal.
In messy, childish scrawl, he wrote ominous plans, the events of April 20, 2011, planned out to the minute.
Wake up. Shower. Get dressed. Smoke. Leave house. Arrive at 6:55 a.m. Place bombs.
He drew diagrams and pictures of bloody bodies. He numbered each step.
5. When bombs blow, advance on courtyard and surrounding areas.
6. Pick off bomb survivors.
Jared said he wanted to die, his friend told police.
That friend — whose identity has been kept a secret because he is a confidential informer for Tampa police — said Jared told him he wanted to kill more than 32 people, more than Columbine and more than Virginia Tech.
According to court documents, the friend went to Jared's apartment in August 2011, and Jared pulled up a Google map of Freedom High School on the Internet. Jared said he was going to put the bombs in the school cafeteria, an idea he got from Columbine.
Jared seemed anxious that day. He watched everything his friend did, questioned him, and wouldn't allow the friend into his bedroom. He seemed different. The friend told police he could "see it in his eyes."
Maybe it was because a girl he liked had brushed him off, the friend guessed.
The friend became nervous. He called his mother to pick him up.
The next day, he called police.
Officers arrested Jared on Aug. 16 and held him in juvenile detention. His mother told police she was afraid of Jared and didn't want him to come home.
When Jared's baby-face and dark, shaggy hair made the news that day, hundreds joined Facebook pages titled "Free Jared Cano" and "Jared Cano is hot."
At his first appearance in court, he seemed more boy than man. He hung his head as a prosecutor listed what police found his room.
When the judge asked where his parents were, his mouth quivered. He said he didn't know.
The next month, prosecutors charged him as an adult.
Jared's father watched from the television.
Alexander Cano had not seen the boy in years, but he could not believe Jared would truly mean to harm others. He thinks it was merely bravado. The boy probably wanted to seem important, Alexander Cano said in a recent interview with the Times.
Several months after Jared's arrest, Michelle Cano took an extended leave of absence from her teaching job. She attended her son's hearings.
On Oct. 16, exactly 14 months after Jared's arrest, Michelle smiled at her shackled son in court. He beamed back.
Then she signed a simple message with her right hand:
I love you.
Times news researchers John Martin and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433.