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Murder charge stuns friends of suspect

Some are convinced of Joshua Rosa's guilt but others who know him as an outstanding young man struggle to understand the arrest.

Published January 9, 2006

TAMPA - The idea that 19-year-old Joshua Rosa strangled and killed his 13-year-old neighbor Stephen Tomlinson last month didn't jibe with reality for educators at Alonso High School, where Rosa graduated in 2004.

Principal Sandy Bunkin said she had only good memories of Rosa as a "great cadet" on the school drill team and in the ROTC program. He seemed well-adjusted and was a good student, she said.

ROTC leaders agreed.

"He was one of the best kids I've ever worked with in 12 years," said Sgt. Major Rodney Williamson, one of the school's ROTC leaders. "I find this very hard to believe."

Rosa was trustworthy, honest and had high morals - in all, an "outstanding young man," added Major Charles Organ, also with the ROTC program.

"He would be one of the last persons I would think would do something like that," Organ said of murder charge that Rosa faces.

Rosa was arrested late Friday at the Sports Authority on E Fowler Avenue, where he worked. He had previously been questioned on Dec. 8, the night Stephen's body was found in Logan Gate Park.

Rosa, who was on suicide watch at the Orient Road Jail without bond, even impressed his neighbors in the Logan Gate subdivision of Carrollwood. He attended church regularly, taking a leadership role in youth activities, which led adults including Stephen Tomlinson's father to trust him around their children.

"My brother felt safe with him because they were churchgoing people," said Patsy Driggers, Stephen's aunt.

She said Rosa's family was taking the arrest hard.

"The kid's mother (Raquel Rosa) was a sweet person. I know his family is broken up. Both families are heartbroken," Driggers said.

The family, which lived across the street from the Tomlinson home for about 15 years, could not be reached for comment. They put their home, now vacant, up for sale a week ago and disconnected their phone number.

Juan Rivera, who lives across the street from Logan Gate Park, said he often saw Rosa jog through the neighborhood. Rosa was known to be athletic, winning the beginner's division in fencing at the spring 2002 Sunshine State Games in Lakeland.

After graduating from Alonso, Rosa attended Hillsborough Community College, most recently this past fall.

In the Logan Gate neighborhood, friends of the Tomlinson family celebrated Rosa's arrest with a Sunday barbecue. About 40 people went out to the park where Stephen's body was found.

They remain convinced of Rosa's guilt, just as they were before his formal arrest.

"I know he did it," said Rivera, whose son, also Juan, was among the group of teens that discovered Stephen's battered body on Dec. 8. "I was one of the first ones there."

Stephen's father, Ron, also had no doubts.

"There's just too much DNA evidence," he said.

Staff writer Amber Mobley contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or

[Last modified January 9, 2006, 18:03:02]

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