LARGO — Anne Polce pointed to a pool of blood soaking into the carpet in her 18-year-old son's bedroom.
"Look what they did to my kid. My only child," said Polce, 52, breaking into sobs on Friday. "This is what happens when you try to get help for your kid."
On Thursday afternoon, she called police because her autistic son, Nicholas John Pesare, was suicidal and she wanted to get him into treatment.
She also warned police that he would come after officers with a knife to provoke them.
Minutes after arriving at the Laguna Vista apartments on Belcher Road S, officers shot and killed Pesare after he reportedly assaulted them with a knife.
On Friday, an angry Polce said authorities didn't make an effort to help her son.
"They cornered him and shot him," she said. "They shot him dead."
She said her son, who fantasized about becoming a champion boxer, was about 5 feet 3 and 118 pounds. And she didn't think he stood a chance against beefy officers, even with a knife.
Largo police Lt. Mike Loux said Largo officers are trained to identify and deal with mentally ill suspects. Many even have received advanced training. The officers tried to help Pesare, he said Friday. However, they had little choice but to defend themselves when attacked, he said.
"It happened in a split second," Loux said. "They tried to make contact with the suspect and he came at them with a knife."
Largo police Chief John Carroll declined to comment, saying it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the ongoing investigation.
"He feels the incident is unfortunate and he is empathetic for the family," Loux said. "He is also cognizant of the dangers police officers face on a daily basis and is comforted that his officers were not injured when the suspect assaulted them with a knife."
Doctors told Polce she could never have kids, but when she was 34 she gave birth to her son in Naples. He was diagnosed with autism in preschool.
"He started banging his head on the floors and the walls," she said.
Several years later, they moved to Rhode Island and lived there until about two years ago.
Pesare was a good student through middle school, Polce said, but a counselor warned her she'd have a tough time with him because he didn't know how to relate to people — a common problem for those afflicted with autism.
Pesare attended an alternative high school for a while, but it wasn't a good fit because other students bullied him, she said.
He trained at a boxing gym up north. A couple of years ago he decided he wanted to come to Florida to train at the St. Pete Boxing Club. So they packed everything in Polce's car and moved to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Largo.
Money was tight. Polce, who said she has numerous health issues including liver problems, receives disability benefits. She slept on the couch in the living room. Her son got the bedroom and decorated the walls with pictures of rappers, boxers, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Kim Kardashian.
He was small but muscular and ate almost constantly. He loved steak, macaroni and cheese and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He liked to smoke pot or synthetic marijuana and it seemed to calm his moods, his mom said.
Last year, Pesare wanted to join the National Guard. His mother said he passed the test, but he was not accepted into the military.
Recently, he had been more and more depressed. He asked his mom to send him back up north to train for a while, but she couldn't afford it.
This week his depression was really severe.
And on Thursday he started talking about ending his life.
"I don't want to be here anymore. I'm tired of being poor. I don't want to live anymore," she said he told her.
He also told her that if police came, "I'm going to pull my knife out and they're going to kill me," she said.
According to Loux, police got a call from Pesare's mother about 1:30 p.m. Thursday. She told them her son was threatening suicide and might use a knife on officers, Loux said.
Three officers arrived at the complex a few minutes later. Polce said she offered to go inside with them. She told them her son wouldn't hurt her.
They said no, so she gave them the keys to her apartment.
Two of the three officers were inside the apartment when Pesare brandished a knife and assaulted them, Loux said. One officer used a Taser on Pesare but it had no effect, he said. The other officer opened fire.
Polce's neighbor, Linda Stewart, a nurse, said she volunteered to help until emergency workers got there. She went into the apartment and found Pesare lying on the floor between his bed and the wall.
On his white T-shirt she saw "a big ring of blood." He was bleeding from his mouth and she felt a pulse. She left his side when officers told her emergency workers were there.
Pesare died at the scene.
Neither officer has been identified. Both are on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, which is standard procedure.
Polce said she planned to contact a lawyer on Friday to file a suit against the police department. She vowed to make them pay for her son's death.
"I feel guilty," Polce said. "I should have never called them."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.