Tampa family awaits answers in fatal shooting of boy, 12

James Lett Jr.’s parents say a teen boy has admitted to shooting James and another boy on Jan. 8 but said the shooting was not intentional.
James Lett Jr. plays with one of his cousins in this family photo. James was fatally shot on Jan. 7 while hanging out with friends in a Tampa home.
James Lett Jr. plays with one of his cousins in this family photo. James was fatally shot on Jan. 7 while hanging out with friends in a Tampa home. [ Courtesy Latrina Jackson ]
Published Jan. 20|Updated Feb. 3

On what would be his last Saturday, James Lett Jr. decided he wanted to take a family tour of sorts.

The 12-year-old Tampa boy was with his father that day, Jan. 8, and said he would like to visit some other family members, said his mother, Latrina Jackson.

“He just told his dad, ‘I want to go around and visit my mom’s side of the family,’” Jackson said.

So James’ father, James Sr., took the boy to Jackson’s sister’s house first, hugging his “auntie” and telling her he’d just come to say he loved her. They then headed to Jackson’s house, where she lives with her mother. When James’ grandmother joked that James hadn’t been around to clean her bathroom, he went in and made it spotless, his mother recalls. Then he was off to an uncle’s house.

In their grief-filled hindsight, the family is cherishing that time. James, it seems, “was saying his goodbyes,” his father said.

The boy was fatally shot the next day while hanging out with friends inside a Tampa home.

The Tampa Police Department has released few details, citing an ongoing investigation. No arrests have been made.

But, Jackson said, she has learned from investigators that there has been a breakthrough in the case. According to Jackson, one of the boys who were at the home at the time of the shooting has admitted to pulling the trigger but said he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

The round hit James in the back of the head, exited through his forehead and hit another boy in the bedroom, Jackson said.

“I want it to be clear my son did not have a gun in his hand,” she said. “He was sitting on the bed, playing on his phone. He never saw it coming.”

Now Jackson and the rest of the family are awaiting word on whether charges will be filed.

‘Always happy, always smiling’

James had five siblings, two on his mother’s side and three on his father’s. He was the youngest of Latrina Jackson’s kids, the baby brother to her two daughters, ages 18 and 15.

A 7th grader at Greco Middle, James loved playing football and video games. Fortnite was his favorite.

“He was just always happy, always smiling, just would light up a room,” Jackson said. “If you’re down, he’s just gonna make you laugh about something.”

As the only boy on his mother’s side of the family, he saw himself as the “protector” of his mom, grandmother and sisters, Jackson said.

James Lett Sr. said his son showed a maturity beyond his years.

“He took care of his cousins, he took care of my step-kids, he took care of my step-grandkids,” he said. “He was a man in a young man’s body.”

James Lett Jr. poses for a family photo at the NFL Super Bowl Experience in Tampa in 2021.
James Lett Jr. poses for a family photo at the NFL Super Bowl Experience in Tampa in 2021. [ Courtesy Latrina Jackson ]

After spending that final Saturday visiting family, James returned to his father’s house in the University Square neighborhood, south of Fowler Avenue. The next day, James went outside to play with his cousin and they headed to a friend’s house on the 2600 block of East 111th Avenue.

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Shortly before 1 p.m., police received a 911 call that a boy possibly had been shot at the home, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case. Officers found James on the floor of a bedroom, shot once. Officers found a single shell casing in the bedroom and a blood trail in the hallway between the kitchen and a bathroom.

A second boy, 15, was holding a pack of hot dogs to his face and appeared to also have a gunshot wound. That boy told police he didn’t know who shot him and provided no other information before he was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

The affidavit says the homeowner, Demetrius Miller, told police he was at church when the shooting happened and when he left that morning there were seven people at the home: his 15-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son; three of his son’s friends, including James; his son’s stepbrother; and a friend of the stepbrother.

Miller told police he owns a 9mm Ruger handgun and keeps the gun unloaded in a closet. He said he keeps the gun’s magazine and ammunition separated inside the same closet.

Miller’s son told investigators that his stepbrother’s friend brought a gun to the home the previous night and that the next day, James, the stepbrother’s friend and the 15-year-old boy “were wrestling around with the gun” in the bedroom, the affidavit states. The son said he left the bedroom, heard a single gunshot and then the 15-year-old boy and the stepbrother’s friend emerged from the bedroom in a panic.

In an initial interview with police, the stepbrother’s friend denied bringing a gun to the house. He said he was in the same bedroom using a mobile device to access social media when he heard a gunshot and immediately went outside and called 911.

A court filing shows investigators took 13 items from property. Only one gun is on the list: a 9mm pistol.

Jackson said police told her which teen admitted to the shooting. The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying him because police have not confirmed the information and he has not been charged. She said police told her that another teen in the home left with the gun involved in the shooting.

Asked about the new information, a Tampa police spokesperson said Thursday that no updates were available. Gary Weisman, chief of staff at the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, said police have not yet presented the case to the office’s homicide committee to determine whether charges will be filed.

In response to a request from the Times for comment on the case, Demetrius Miller responded with a text message.

“My heart is heavy and my sympathy goes out to the family and it was a senseless act that shouldn’t have happened,” the message said. “All families involved have been impacted and at this point I have nothing but sympathy and empathy to all those involved.”

‘Don’t tell me my baby is gone’

Jackson was at work when a family member arrived and said James had been shot and she needed to get to Advent Health Tampa hospital. She figured he had been injured. When Jackson got to the hospital, her bawling sister greeted her with a hug.

Don’t tell me my baby is gone, Jackson recalls telling her sister.

As they waited at the hospital expecting to be able see James, Jackson said, they learned the medical examiner already had arrived and left with his body. She had to identify him at the medical examiner’s office by looking at a photo tacked to a clipboard. In the photo, James head is visible in a partially unzipped white body bag, a gunshot wound marking his forehead just above his closed eyes.

Services for the boy are set for Jan. 28. A GoFundMe campaign by Friday had raised more than $4,200 for funeral expenses.

“My family and I, we can’t even begin to grieve and start to heal because there are just too many unanswered questions,” Jackson said. “I’m going to leave this in God’s hands, but I’m crying out to the state attorney to make the right decision on this case.”

James’ death is another case in a string of recent shootings involving children in the Tampa Bay area. Jackson said she wants her son’s case to drive home how easily kids are able to get their hands on guns and how dangerous that can be.

“Talk to your children about guns,” she said. “Explain to them the importance of knowing that once you pull that trigger, there’s no taking it back. Someone could die, like James.”