The women, once girls, gathered at the crime scene tape.
The police had found the body of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau, ending a search that took a community on an intensive search through the ponds, garbage bins and woods of Largo.
The child's mother was one of their own, a former resident of a group home in Clearwater for teenage girls.
Her old housemates, some of whom had joined the search, had seen Charisse Stinson's story on the news, that she and her son had accepted a ride from a stranger who knocked her unconscious. When she woke up, Jordan was gone, and phones across the state lit up with an Amber Alert.
Some didn't believe her. She was known to lie. But the story that would come out was even harder to grasp.
Largo police arrested Stinson, 21, last month in Jordan's murder, writing in a report that she had admitted to hitting her son and leaving his body in the woods. Detectives characterized her as "deceptive." The boy had recently been returned to his birth parents after more than a year with a foster family, deepening the tragedy.
But before Jordan's brushes with the child welfare system, his mother had many of her own.
Her father was sent to prison on a robbery conviction when she was 4, Florida Department of Corrections records show. Her mother raised her, but at some point, Stinson moved into foster care. It's not clear when or why. Child welfare records are protected by confidentiality laws.
Stinson was vindictive and manipulative, with volatile mood swings that made her turn on even close friends, said former employees and residents of a group home she lived in as a teenager.
But she had potential, too, as a compassionate friend and dedicated student determined to graduate high school. Some who used to be close to her questioned how her life — and her son's life — would have turned out had she gotten the support she needed in foster care and beyond.
"The system failed baby Jordan before baby Jordan was even thought of," said Fezjia Shaquawn Brown, a former group home employee, "because it failed Charisse."
The runaway reports stacked up during Stinson's stay at 1622 Turner St. in Clearwater.
At least 19 times between August 2012 and September 2014, when Stinson was between 15 and 17, employees of the group home reported her missing to police.
"... last seen wearing a red tank top, blue shorts, red and gold sandals," one of the reports reads. "... advised day shift staff that she was going to an unknown friend's house for Homecoming," says another.
One of the last reports came in August 2014, a few months before the shelter closed due to lack of funding. Police found her with her mother, Mary Washington, in a hotel north of Orlando. Washington put Stinson on a bus back to Pinellas County a few days later.
Washington declined to comment for this article. Stinson's public defenders declined to comment or make Stinson available for an interview.
Stinson's path between Orlando and the Tampa Bay area was well-traveled.
She was born April 9, 1997 in Orlando to Thadius and Mary, according to a newspaper announcement. She lived part of her childhood north of Orlando in Apopka, where her mother's family had deep roots. Her grandfather, the late Bishop G.H. Washington, was a longtime pastor there.
The family later moved to Hillsborough County and bounced around rental houses in Brandon, Valrico and Tampa. Life for the family toughened as Stinson got older.
When she was 11, a cosmetologist who lived next door accused Stinson of stealing thousands of dollars worth of makeup. A deputy who arrested her at McClane Middle School found missing lip gloss in her backpack. She wrote an apology letter.
"I just wanted something to make me look cool because I've never even been to the mall," she wrote, and after her signature, "P.S. that is the first time I stole something and could you come over to say you forgive me or write a letter and mail it?"
Reports tied to Stinson and Washington show that between 2007 and 2009, Sheriff's deputies responded seven times to child abuse or neglect reports, including one from a former landlord who said children were left in a bug-infested home with no electricity. That one checked out, and investigators temporarily removed the kids from the home, but prosecutors did not file charges. Investigators said the rest of the allegations were unfounded.
It came to a head in April 2009. The family had a meeting to talk about one of the reports. It broke into an argument between siblings.
"Everybody started to yell at me about making another report," one of them wrote in a statement to Sheriff's deputies. The Sheriff's Office redacted names on the report, citing confidentiality around crimes involving some juvenile offenders.
The family was living in a motel when the Tampa Bay Times published an article in August 2010 about middle class families sliding into homelessness. Washington told the Times she had lost her job as a negotiator at a financial firm when the company folded. A landlord evicted the family, and Washington lost her car.
The next year, public records list Stinson as living in a group home in Lutz and attending Freedom High School in Tampa.
Vanessa Stinson, her aunt, said she was removed from her mother's care during or just before middle school because of abuse involving Washington's husband at the time. She didn't know any details. Police reports from around that time mention a stepfather, Eric Baker, who records show was convicted twice of attacking Washington but not Stinson. One report mentions that Washington had ovarian cancer.
"She takes medication and knows the added stress of the violence is not helping her," says the report from July 2011. "She cannot work and is afraid for her children."
Stinson moved to the home in Clearwater sometime between then and August 2012, the month of her first runaway report.
She soon developed a reputation among the employees and residents.
At the home nestled on a quiet street, thrown together with 11 other girls on their own broken paths, Stinson made a life for herself.
She took the bus to and from school. Brown, one of the former employees, said Stinson was determined to finish. She spent a couple of years at Clearwater High, and later went to Enterprise High, a drop-out prevention school.
Group home workers drove her to jobs at Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Westfield Countryside Mall, and later Kilwins on Clearwater Beach. She showed up to the latter with a friend in April 2014 as a bubbly teenager, said Kate Labonte, the store owner. "I love to bake and create," she'd written on her application.
She got the job.
Outside of school and work, she hung out with friends in and out of the group home. One fellow resident, Tania Preston, said Stinson used to be one of her best friends. The girls were inseparable, watching fireworks at Largo Central Park, going to parties, talking on the phone. Preston, now 21, worked at a Surf Style on the beach while Stinson worked at Kilwins. The pair would meet up and eat ice cream, or go swimming in the Gulf. She was a good friend, Preston said, always there for her.
But Brown said she had another side, too. You could watch the change happen, Brown said, "like a switch she flipped."
Neosha Belle, who said she lived with Stinson for a few years, learned quickly that her roommate was obsessive and jealous. Her first day at the shelter, a staff member was nice to Belle. Stinson was livid.
"She just didn't like to see people forming relationships if it wasn't with her," Belle, now 21, said.
She used to tell people her mother was dead, Belle said. Another former roommate, Briana Peters, said she had requested to move to a different room after just a week. Stinson bullied her, trying to hit her with socks filled with locks and calling Peters, now 21, demonic because of the religion she practiced at the time.
Vicki Cuevas, a former employee, said she once had to leave work early because Stinson upset her so much. She couldn't remember exactly what she said, but it was so biting that her heart started palpitating.
"Out of all those girls," Cuevas, now 69, said, "there was something about her that was just — I don't know how to say it other than bad."
Brown suspected the teen was bipolar, although she wasn't aware of any formal diagnosis. She also didn't know if Stinson went to individual counseling. Preston said it depended on your case manager. They could look into options, but even if they found something, you could refuse.
"Most case managers aren't going to try to talk you into it," she said. "Most will be like, 'Okay, that's less work for me,' because they would be the ones that had to take you to the appointments."
That's an important point to Brown, 38, and she would know as a product of the foster care system herself. She could have benefited from more individualized attention, she said, to help her make sense of the abuse she suffered and why she was removed from her home. She had a clear head, and a foster mom who helped her grow up. Not all kids are so lucky.
The group home was run by Family Resources, a Pinellas Park-based nonprofit serving runaway and homeless teenagers. President and CEO Lisa Davis declined to comment on specific cases. She said the transitional living program offered counseling and life skills services, but they weren't mandatory. The primary goals of the program were to help students finish school and prepare for adulthood.
Brown had another theory about Stinson, about her possessiveness over the people around her.
"She's reaching for some sort of love that she never got," she said.
Stinson started losing interest in school because, she told Preston, she was being bullied. She never graduated. One day in July 2014, when she was 17, she didn't show up for her shift at Kilwins, and the owner didn't hear from the once-bubbly teenager again.
Things worsened as the girls learned the group home would close and that they'd all be placed elsewhere. Runaway reports skyrocketed, Brown said. Stinson had five in August 2014.
Brown stayed until the doors closed that year. Stinson was the last girl left.
More than a year later, Brown saw Stinson walking down the road and offered her a ride. Stinson hopped in, telling her that she was living with a foster family under a program that allowed children who had turned 18 to remain in foster care for a few years into adulthood.
She said she was pregnant. Brown told her to call if she needed anything.
A few months after Jordan was born, Brown saw her again, this time at a Wawa. She was so skinny Brown could see her kneecaps — "like a skeleton with skin on her."
She asked where the baby was.
"Oh, about that," she told Brown. "I'm going to get him back. I promise."
Brown was shocked.
"I thought you being in foster care, you would do your best for the kids you bring into the world," she said. "You wouldn't want them to have the life you had."
Brown told her again to call if she needed anything.
By that point, child protective investigators had shown up to the house Stinson was staying at with Jordan's father. The investigators were checking out reports of violence and gang activity at the home. The elder Jordan could not be reached for comment for this article but previously denied the allegations.
Child welfare documents for young Jordan note that Stinson was still in school and determined to finish. She was looking for work and eventually got a job at a hotel management firm. She admitted to anger problems and was willing to try counseling.
Stinson "is maintaining an excellent bond with her son," a caseworker wrote in a family assessment. "The mother continues to show a lot of affection to her child." She got Jordan back in May.
Months later, Brown thought to herself that a child reported missing looked familiar.
Then her phone rang.
It was one of the girls from the group home, Brown said, "and she's like, 'Ms. Fezjia, you know that's Charisse, right? That's Charisse's baby.'"
Brown tried to call her. Stinson didn't answer.
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @kathrynvarn.