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Suspect's church activities in spotlight

Investigators are focusing on a man's association with a Tampa church after he is charged with murder.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published January 8, 2006


TAMPA - The arrest of a youth pastor accused of murdering 13-year-old Stephen Tomlinson has investigators wondering about his involvement with a Tampa Pentecostal church.

Joshua Rosa, 19, was arrested Friday night on charges he strangled the Davidsen Middle School seventh-grader at a park in Carrollwood's Logan Gate Village on Dec. 8.

Sheriff's officials have said Rosa was a youth pastor. On Saturday, Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Calloway confirmed that the church in question is Tabernaculo La Fe, a Zion Pentecostal church on Nebraska Avenue near Interstate 4. He said detectives will be looking at his activities there as part of their ongoing investigation.

"We've had no one come forward that's involved with that church to report any improprieties," Calloway added. Stephen attended church with the Rosa family several times. Stephen's father, Ron Tomlinson, was wary of Stephen hanging out alone with Rosa because of their age difference, but said he felt comfortable about the church trips.

Tomlinson said Rosa, who lived across the street from him, seemed to be a trustworthy person who would practice karate moves with Stephen in the Tomlinsons' driveway.

"He's never been in trouble," Tomlinson said of Rosa. "He's an honor roll student, ROTC. All around, the kid who you would want to be your kid." Rosa was taken into custody at the time of the murder, then released after questioning.

Stephen's DNA was found on gloves and nail clippers Rosa had with him the night of the murder, Sheriff David Gee said. Gee said investigators think Rosa may have used the clippers to try and remove evidence.

"I know I'm going to have a hard time ahead," Tomlinson said Saturday. "There is now a year or two that there is going to be a trial, but at least now that I've got answers, I can move on a little better."

Saturday afternoon, Stephen's aunt, Phyllis Gardner of Wesley Chapel, drove to visit her nephew's grave, "just to try to be near him for a little bit."

In Stephen's neighborhood, a celebration was being planned. Seventeen-year-old Juan Rivera, who said he was among a group of teens who found Stephen's body, lives on the Tomlinsons' street. He said he and Tomlinson will host a get-together today to mark the arrest.

"He's really happy," Rivera said of Stephen's father. "You can can see the change in his face."

Patsy Driggers, Stephen's aunt, recalled once meeting Rosa at Stephen's house. "He seemed like a polite little kid," she said. "He had everything going, too."

Since the arrest, she feels differently. "I want to make sure that he gets the death penalty, because that's what he deserves," Driggers said. Tomlinson said the Rosa family has moved out, and there is a "For Sale" sign in the front yard. He said he hasn't seen them for weeks. The phone number at the house was disconnected.

He would, however, like to see Joshua Rosa again.

"I would like to get face to face with this guy and ask him, "Why my son?"'

[Last modified January 8, 2006, 00:44:19]


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