GIBSONTON — Police officials on Sunday called Marco Parilla Jr. a coward, a bad guy and a cop killer.
The portrayal stunned his family, who described the 23-year-old as "quiet" and "nice," not someone who could possibly gun down a police officer.
"He was a nice kid. I raised him," his aunt, Juana Melendez said between sobs from the front yard of Parilla's family home on the 11000 block of Ekker Road in Gibsonton. "He was not like that. He was a good guy."
As Melendez and her father, Julio Melendez, talked about Parilla, two portraits emerged of the man charged with killing Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek.
The official one, based on jail and court records, depicts a young man with a criminal past that began only weeks after his 18th birthday in 2009, when he chalked up his first adult offense for driving without a license.
Parilla's crimes multiplied after that. He was arrested in Hillsborough County five times from 2009 to 2011 on numerous charges. He later received a three-year prison sentence for, among other charges, selling cocaine and marijuana, trafficking in stolen property and leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury.
Released last March, Parilla was placed under "community supervision," but that status was updated to "absconder/fugitive" after a probation felony, according to the Department of Corrections. At the time, he was believed to be living in Clearwater.
"This is a guy that has a very, very extensive criminal history," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters. "This is a guy that's been around the block many, many times."
Early Sunday morning, Kondek responded to a noise complaint at an apartment building in Tarpon Springs. Parilla shot Kondek once in the chest and then ran over the officer in his car as he sped away, investigators said. He was captured a few minutes later after he crashed his car into a power pole.
Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen said: "This is a tragedy caused by a coward who chose to take the life of a public servant."
Juana Melendez and her father shook their heads when told about Parilla's arrest. Melendez broke down in tears. "He was a nice, good kid," she said.
They said Melendez attended East Bay High School in Gibsonton, but dropped out. He got a GED and worked intermittently as a cook in St. Petersburg. Hillsborough jail records indicate he worked at a Checkers in 2009.
Julio Melendez blamed drugs for the change in his grandson, adding Parilla started using them as a teenager.
Juana Melendez said her nephew came from a broken family, suggesting he felt abandoned by his mother, who left him for long stretches, and a father, who moved out when Parilla was a boy. After jail, he turned to a gang, she said.
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Melendez said Parilla had a girlfriend, with whom he had two children, but she was unsure about the couple's status. She said they last spoke in spring.
"I told him he needs to stay out of trouble," she said.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Laura Morel and Katie Mettler contributed to this report. Contact Rich Shopes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3368. Follow @richshopes.