LITHIA — More than 300 classmates and parents quietly filed into Park Square Plaza on Monday evening to mourn the death of 15-year-old Bradley Hulett, who was fatally shot this past weekend in the home of a Tampa police officer.
They dressed in black shirts and curled next to each other for support. They lit candles and raised them in remembrance. They cried over the senselessness of losing a loyal friend, of having to face Hulett’s empty seat in class every day.
Bradley was the oldest of five siblings and a student at Newsome High School. Classmates said that he excelled at sports and academics, but was humble about his accomplishments. He put everyone at ease with his friendly smile.
“The way everyone says he never stopped smiling — I’d like to say it was a lie, but I really never saw him not smiling,” said Jeffrey Farmer, 15.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the shooting, and the Tampa Police Department have released few details about what happened Friday at a home on Bridgewalk Drive, in the Fishhawk Ranch development.
The Sheriff’s Office has said only that the Dec. 13 incident involved a firearm and four teens, ages 15 to 16. A gun was fired inside the Tampa officer’s home. Bradley suffered a gunshot wound to the upper body and died at a hospital.
Deputies say the shooting appears to be an accident, but have not said who fired the gun, what kind of weapon it was or how the teenagers got a hold of it. While the investigation continues, those who gathered Monday had an inkling of what happened:
“If a friend pulls out a gun and is playing around, please, get out of the situation,” said classmate Dennis Bolender III, 14, whose father is a retired St. Petersburg police officer.
The agencies involved haven’t released the name of the Tampa police officer who lives at the address where the shooting took place. The identity of the owner is also redacted from property records. Florida law allows law enforcement officers to request that their addresses be kept confidential.
Tampa police spokesman Eddy Durkin said the department will conduct an internal investigation of the incident after the Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation.
Ryan Eckley, 15, said he’d known Bradley since they were both seven. They hit it off when Ryan taught Bradley how to blow bubble gum at a baseball game, and remained best friends ever since.
This year, they sat next to each other in pre-calculus and planned to see one of their favorite musicians, Puerto Rican rapper Iann Dior, at a January concert.
But when Ryan returned to Newsome High on Monday, reality hit him hard.
“I went back to class and as soon as I saw his desk, I had a breakdown," he said. “I had to leave.”
Ryan said classmates often went over to the Hulett house to play Xbox, watch movies and basketball games or just hang out with the whole family.
During the vigil Bradley’s mother, Meagan Hulett, addressed her son’s friends. She struggled to speak in between tears.
“Please keep coming over,” she said. “I need you guys to keep coming over so I feel like nothing changed.”
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.