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Deep sorrow but few answers surround 14-year-old's shooting death in Tampa

Edward Harris III sits slumped in grief Monday while his sister Wanda Harris consoles him over the shooting death of his son. The 14-year-old was the 18th homicide victim in Tampa this year and the fourth teen to die.
Edward Harris III sits slumped in grief Monday while his sister Wanda Harris consoles him over the shooting death of his son. The 14-year-old was the 18th homicide victim in Tampa this year and the fourth teen to die.
Published Jun. 2, 2015

TAMPA — Marcus Harris stood Monday on the street corner outside his family's Diana Street home, tears welling in his eyes.

In his pocket was a school photo of his 14-year-old brother Edward — known to friends as "E.J." — who was gunned down Sunday afternoon steps away from where Marcus now paced the street.

Amid an impromptu gathering of friends, he spoke of the boy who loved swimming and basketball, the kid who was learning to drive and getting ready for high school. He spoke of the guilt he felt, blaming himself for being the target of the violence that found his brother. He spoke of rage, and a desire for revenge against those responsible.

"He never did nothing to nobody," said Marcus, 16. "This is my worst fear, something happening to him."

Tampa police were still investigating Edward Harris' death Monday. He is the 18th homicide victim in the city this year. He is the fourth teenager to die.

Those numbers represent an alarming surge in violence for Tampa. At this time last year, there were only 10 homicides in the city. While the cases differ widely in their circumstances, many share a common thread: the reluctance of witnesses to come forward and help police.

That was something police Assistant Chief Mary O'Connor sought to address in a news conference Monday afternoon in which she detailed what investigators know about Harris' death.

"Unfortunately, at this point, we are coming up fairly empty-handed with leads," O'Connor said. "There were no witnesses to the actual event that stayed behind to talk to us. … We know somebody out there knows something. We just ask that they come forward."

Police got a break Monday evening when detectives found the car used in the shooting. It happened after they released surveillance video that showed the attack on Harris at Woodland Terrace Park, where Harris was playing basketball shortly before the shooting.

In the videos, an Infiniti sedan is seen heading west on Diana Street. It turns around and speeds east again past the north entrance to the park. As it passes, a group of people scatter. One of them, believed to be Harris, falls. Another jumps into an orange car as it drives west.

Police said they have identified the driver of the orange car and were speaking with him. But the driver of the sedan, and the person who shot Harris, remains elusive.

"The people that are in the silver sedan are extremely dangerous," O'Connor said. "They're extremely bold. They will shoot and they will kill a 14-year-old boy in broad daylight just outside the confines of a city park."

As for why he was shot, police said there are a number of possibilities.

One theory is that Harris was targeted for talking to police. In just the last year, the Greco Middle School student had been either a victim or a witness in at least three separate criminal cases, police said.

In August, he witnessed a stabbing. In January, he was the victim in a robbery. And in April, he reported being shot at, in a case that later netted the arrest of a 16-year-old.

On the street corner where his brother spoke Monday, talk of gangs surfaced. The group turned their heads suspiciously as cars rolled by. The killers, Marcus Harris said, came from south of Hillsborough Avenue, rival turf.

"They know it's those ones across Hillsborough," he said. "They probably targeted my brother to get at me."

Neighbors and friends of the family stopped by the modest home where Harris' father, Edward III, slumped in a chair on the porch.

Linda Godwin recalled the nice young man, who always addressed her as "ma'am," when he came to play video games with her grandchildren.

"I don't know what the solutions are, but I know someone needs to come up with some solutions," she said. "There was no reason for this 14-year-old child to lose his life."

Times photographer Octavio Jones contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.