TAMPA — Tampa lawyer Alberto Romero's dedication to his extended family was what inspired him to visit Cuba, where he was killed last week, friends said.
Little information is available about how and why Romero was killed, but friends said this was the seventh or eighth time the 39-year-old South Tampa lawyer had visited his extended family since he first met them in 2013.
"He was in Cuba to love and connect with and to help his family," said friend and former co-worker Miriam Mason. "He was just so warm and so generous and so anxious and willing to help these people who had never been a part of his life but obviously were his relatives."
It was unclear if Romero was killed Thursday night or Friday morning. Mason said a close family friend whom Romero referred to as a cousin also was killed. Hal Flowers, a spokesman for the family, said he heard similar information.
The family is working with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's office to learn more about the circumstances of Romero's death and to secure the return of his body so his family can plan a memorial service.
The family was hoping to know more Monday, but after filling out some next-of-kin paperwork they have yet to learn new details, Flowers said.
"We're still waiting to hear back from the State Department," he said.
After Romero's first visit to Cuba in 2013, Mason said he had made his extended family a priority. On one trip, he renovated his elderly aunt's bathroom so she would have running water. On another, Romero asked his partner, Jeremy Bowers, to bring shoes for each of his family members. It was the first new pair any of them had ever received, Mason said.
"He was so excited that the administration had changed their position on Cuba and was so hopeful that normalization of relations was going to continue and sanctions would continue to be lessened," Mason said.
After receiving his law degree from the University of Illinois law school in 2001, Romero started with Gulf Coast Legal Services in 2002, defending indigent victims of domestic violence, according to his website. He then spent several years with the office of Mason Black & Caballero before he opened Alberto Romero PA.
Judge Catherine Catlin said Romero was a model lawyer every time he appeared before her. She described him as an "amazing man and a gentle soul."
"He was always positive," Catlin said. "I never saw him lose his temper or get frustrated or angry. … He's what you want everybody to be like in the courtroom."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.