ST. PETERSBURG — Donnie Avery struggled in school and got into some trouble as a younger boy, but the 17-year-old had a goal, his family said.
"He wanted to be a police officer," said Avery's uncle, Greg Kitto. "Donnie's a good spirit. He'd made a few mistakes, and he was trying to make up for that. "
On Saturday, police were searching for Avery's killer.
A passer-by heard a gunshot about 2:40 a.m. and found Avery lying on the Pinellas Trail overpass that spans 34th Street S near Gibbs High School, according to St. Petersburg police. Avery had been shot in the upper body and was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Detectives do not think Avery was randomly targeted, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
The youngest of five siblings, Avery lived with his mother, Winona Kitto, about 2 miles from where his body was found, said Greg Kitto, Winona's brother. A group sitting outside the house Saturday morning, some in tears, declined to comment to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.
Greg Kitto is a bartender and night manager at the Chattaway, the iconic hamburger restaurant on 22nd Avenue S owned by his mother, Jillian Frers. Avery helped out at the restaurant but wasn't on the payroll, Kitto said. Winona Kitto works there part time.
The teen, who stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, attended Lakewood High, where a learning disability frustrated his efforts, Frers said.
"He made up for it for being very gregarious and artistic," she said. "He was good with his hands but mostly good with people. He just had such an empathy for his family and his fellow man."
At a family gathering at Fort De Soto last summer, Frers said, Avery helped rescue a young relative when the boy started struggling in the water. He loved to ride his bike and was proud of his American Indian heritage, his family said.
He sometimes stayed out late, Frers said. She doesn't know what he might have been doing in the area at that hour. Kitto said the family had heard Avery was feuding with another boy.
They hope whoever pulled the trigger is caught soon.
"We don't go the vengeance route in our family," Kitto said. "Justice is fine, then we'll have some peace."
Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan and Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.