Less than 24 hours after one of their own was shot dead, a group of black-clad private security officers gathered at the scene of the crime.
Security Officer Mathew F. Little was killed while patrolling Mariner's Pointe Apartment complex sometime after 1 a.m. Monday, police said. His colleagues returned that night in force. They reached out to residents and received condolences. They handed out fliers offering a $15,000 cash reward for finding Little's killer.
And, the private security force hoped, they sent a message to whoever pulled the trigger:
"We're here to stay," said Cpl. Ricky Vargas, "and we're not going to back down."
St. Petersburg police continued their murder investigation Tuesday but shared no new details.
Meanwhile, Little's death led his employer, Critical Intervention Services, to step up patrols at Mariner's Pointe. The Largo private security firm also brought in grief counselors for its employees.
"Everybody's sad. In disbelief," said Amy O'Rourke, director of public affairs for the company. "It's a family. Whether you knew him or didn't know him, it's all one family. Everyone's feeling the loss."
Little, 26, of Brandon, usually worked around the University of South Florida in Tampa. But on Monday he was sent to St. Petersburg. The company was shorthanded after 30 officers reported for military training.
Gunshots were heard in the complex at 1:07 a.m., police said, shortly after Little told dispatchers he was going on foot patrol. St. Petersburg officers searched the area but found nothing. They left at 1:51 a.m.
They returned when Little failed to check in. Police officers found him at 2:09 a.m. He was lying dead by the pool, between two vehicles. His gun was missing.
No funeral arrangements have been announced for Little, who was to be married in November.
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There was a backup security officer two miles from Little when he died, his company said, but apparently he had no chance to call for backup.
His employer took no chances Tuesday. CIS is now patrolling Mariner's Pointe with at least two private officers around-the-clock, according to Lt. Shannon Shuck.
Shuck and Vargas worked with Little in the Tampa area. But as the sun set Tuesday they patrolled the same St. Petersburg complex where their colleague died. Black mourning bands covered their badges.
They remembered Little as a popular security officer with a knack for calming tense situations.
"I guess you could say it was his aura," Vargas said. "Even when there's swearing and negativity all around he came in with a sense of calm.
"You hear about good cop, bad cop. He was always angel cop. The calm one."
After the security officer's death, some Mariner's Pointe residents complained to the St. Petersburg Times about the crime and chaos in their complex.
There is a young, unruly element influencing what goes on inside the complex, said Senior Master Sgt. Carlos Ruiz of CIS. But the firm isn't sure if they actually live in the complex or just make trouble there.
St. Petersburg police say the apartment complex has been quiet since Little's death. The firm, though, put on a show of force there Monday night.
Half a dozen of Little's colleagues patrolled the area, questioning people there and handing out fliers advertising the reward. Ruiz said they also wanted to deliver a message to the residents there.
"Some were under the impression that because of this assault, this murder, we were just going to pull out," he said. "We want to let the community know we're not going to give in."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.
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Have a tip?
Critical Intervention Services is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and successful conviction of whoever killed Security Officer Mathew F. Little. Anyone with information about the case should call St. Petersburg police at (727) 893-7780 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.