TAMPA — Pastor Mike Moore has been asked a lot of questions after the death of Emilio J. Martinez-Rodriguez, who disappeared Dec. 15 and was found dead eight days later. One especially gave him pause.
"I don't know why, when Emilio, finally, was in the prime of his life … why now?" he told the congregation at Tuesday's funeral.
Tampa police didn't have an answer, either — but they don't believe the crime was random.
Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Tuesday that detectives think Martinez-Rodriguez, 34, was targeted when he vanished from his central Tampa neighborhood.
"The residents of Wellswood should not be fearful," McElroy said. "We do not believe their safety is at risk in any way."
She said she could not release a cause of death or discuss a possible motive or suspects.
"The investigation is still very active," she said.
At the funeral, attended by more than 500 people, friends and family didn't talk of the crime. Instead, they spoke of a man who had appeared to turn his life around about two years ago when he started attending Grace Family Church in Lutz.
"Emilio realized his life was about helping others," said his father-in-law, Andy Urso, after the service at the Lutz church. "He really grasped on to that."
Martinez-Rodriguez worked with the church's middle school ministry, volunteered on Saturdays and supported friends in need. He was expecting a son. His wife, Kacee Martinez, plans to name the child Emilio Jr.
Kacee didn't speak during the service, but a friend read a speech the widow wrote.
"My loving Emilio had a sensitive side that would melt my heart," Becky Dean read. "Sometimes he would wake me up in the middle of the night just to tell me he loved me, and to thank me for being his wife."
On Dec. 15, Martinez-Rodriguez went out to buy Chinese food. He never made it back inside his Dallas Avenue house, but a neighbor's surveillance camera showed his gray Toyota Camry heading toward the house.
One neighbor reported seeing a suspicious person that night.
On Thursday, a maintenance man for a mosque off Orient Road found Martinez-Rodriguez's car, which appeared to have been doused with bleach.
A day later, the medical examiner confirmed the dead man was Martinez-Rodriguez. Police say he was murdered.
After the funeral, father-in-law Urso told reporters he's thankful for the community's support and asked that people report any tips to the Tampa Police Department.
"We definitely need to find out what happened to Emilio and why it happened," he said. "I think as time passes, people will find out."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.