Suspect named in killing of teen

A warrant has been issued for a 20-year-old man who is not yet in police custody.

Published May 8, 2007

TAMPA - A few days before he was shot to death, Marcus D. Johnson posed an odd question to his mother as the two watched a movie.

" 'What if I die?' " she recalled him saying.

Michele Grimes can't help but think about that now, as she wonders what was on her son's mind.

" 'Mommy, I've changed my life around, ' " she said he told her. " 'I'm doing good.' "

Johnson, a 17-year-old Wharton High School sophomore, died Friday after a bullet pierced his chest.

Investigators say the shooter is Rick Elise Joseph, 20, who goes by the alias "Batman" and has been arrested nine times on charges including cocaine distribution, burglary and vehicle theft.

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office issued a warrant Monday for Joseph's arrest. He was not in custody by Monday evening.

It's unclear whether there was a motive for the shooting at the Cedar Trace Apartments. A group of young people stood near the apartments. There was an argument. Deputies say six to eight men in dark clothing went up to Johnson and 19-year-old Marcus Edwards, and Joseph opened fire.

A bullet grazed Edwards' chest, and he was treated and released. Johnson collapsed in the parking lot and died en route to the hospital.

Johnson's mother got a call about the shooting just after it happened. She got to the parking lot before her son was taken in the ambulance. She saw an IV in his arm. His head was turned away from her. Paramedics frantically tried to revive him.

Grimes said her son got into trouble in his early teens, but he worked through it with help from teachers and counselors. He wanted to be a computer analyst, and he was on his way to pick up his repaired hard drive when the shooting happened.

Witnesses told her Johnson had stopped his bicycle to talk on a cell phone when a man approached him and shot him. She didn't recognize Joseph's name and said she didn't think her son knew him well.

At school and at home, Johnson was known for his kind heart. He once gave his expensive jeans and Michael Jordan sneakers to a classmate too poor to afford his own.

He made his guidance counselor, Sandra Brennan, a jigsaw puzzle of two kittens. He signed the back with a note of thanks.

"I've had a lot of kids bring me something that they could buy but nothing they could make, " she said. "He would give things to people who couldn't afford anything. I only know that he gave me a gift that I'll always treasure."

Brennan hopes to create a scholarship in his memory. Applicants would write essays about ending teen violence. His family agrees, hoping he will be remembered for something good, something positive.

His funeral is 11 a.m. Saturday at Ray Williams Funeral Home in Tampa.

"We're not looking at this as a death, we're looking at this as a celebration of life, " said his aunt, Sherri Grimes.

On his mother's birthday on May 1, Johnson gave her poetry he had written.

"One of his poems was talking about how us young black men don't realize how this world is, " his mother said. "He said, 'I'm not saying that the world is against us, but we're against each other. We need to stop fighting.' "

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.