Boy, 12, charged in killing: 'Very big tragedy' for the community

by: Amanda Warford Updated:

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —

Blood still stains the sidewalk of an abandoned restaurant on the Westside, where 54-year-old Thomas Trent was killed in the early morning hours of June 28.  

Action News was there when Trent, who was homeless, was found shot in the head. Now, police say 12-year-old Sharron Sherman Townsend pulled the trigger, making him one of Jacksonville’s youngest murder suspects.

“He admitted to shooting a handgun,” said Assistant Chief Butler during a press conference Thursday, announcing Townsend’s arrest the night before.

Police say Townsend is one of boys seen in surveillance video that was released days after the killing. The video was captured by ASAP Dental Care, a business in a nearby strip mall.

“I knew they were young,” said Lezlee Linton, a primary care coordinator for the office. “I knew they were very young.”

Linton was working the day Trent’s body was found, and watched with detectives as they reviewed the video for the first time. Police announced to Action News as the scene that no foul play was suspected in Trent’s death, but returned hours later to continue their investigation.

“The detectives had video from various businesses, but we had just upgraded our cameras and had the clearest view of the suspects,” said Linton.

The second boy, who police say is 16, was questioned this week for an unrelated burglary, and named Townsend as the shooter.

“They were just kind of walking,” says Linton of the video. “It didn't seem like they had a care or problem.”

What wasn’t released previously by police, Linton said, is additional video from cameras behind the office that captured the boys running through the alley six minutes later.

“They hightailed it that way and they had shirts covering their face.  They were wrapped around like a towel,” Linton said.

“I really don’t have an explanation as to why the event happened,” said Butler. “They may have seen each other around but they didn’t have a relationship at all. To me, it seems like somebody just went by and shot the individual that was there.”

But another homeless man, nicknamed Wolverine, stays in a location nearby, and tells Action News he witnessed the boys and Trent arguing back and forth for nearly two months.

“I've watched it go on and on and on. He would drink and they'd come around and throw stuff on him when he was passed out, and he would cuss them and throw stuff at them. Then they started urinating on him and would pour Cokes on him, so he got mad and threw rocks at them and I think he hit one of them,” Wolverine said.

Wolverine said Trent was taken to the hospital for an infection days before the killing and had just returned hours before with bandages on his arms and was using a walker. Wolverine said the place Trent died was his usually sleeping spot.

“Thomas had a heart of gold,” said Trent’s sister, Dawn McNabb. “Yeah, he was homeless, yeah he had a problem drinking, but that didn’t make a reason for him to be killed. That didn’t make a reason for him to be a target.”

McNabb and neighbors are now glad someone is behind bars, but are saddened to hear a child may be responsible.

“It’s an actual child that took someone’s life, that destroyed someone’s world,” McNabb said.  “He didn’t just hurt our family. He didn’t just hurt himself for life now, but he also destroyed his family.”

“Justice,” said Wolverine. “They will get what’s coming to them.”

“Either way you look at it,” added Linton, “it's a very big tragedy for our community.”

Police say the 16-year-old was not involved in the shooting and they do not expect to file any additional charges.

Townsend was previously arrested by the Duval County School Board Police Department in 2013 for burglary. His family would not comment on the charges Thursday.