CLEARWATER, Fla - Joye Nix knew she had to 'do the right thing' when she found a murder victim's wallet mixed in with her 18-year-old cousin's possessions.
Nix, on the advice of the teen's mother, took DeWayne "DJ" Jones to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office along with Lydia Tross' wallet Sunday.
According to Nix, when the family first found the wallet inside their home on Betty Lane, they decided to Google Tross' name in hopes of returning the wallet. What they found instead were postings about her murder and condolence messages.
"Our heart goes out to her, her family, her loved ones," said Nix while crying.
Tross, of Clearwater, was reported missing August 5 by her longtime boyfriend, Lawrence Stanley.
Tross and Stanley got into an argument and police say Tross left their Highland Avenue apartment.
On Saturday, Tross' decomposed body was found between Fairmont Street and Stevenson Avenue. Police say she was not clothed and suffered from sharp force wounds to the head and neck.
Officers believe Jones tried to rob Tross and ended up taking her life.
When Jones was interviewed by detectives he gave "conflicting and incriminating statement," according to police.
Nix told ABC Action News her cousin, a football player just about to enter his senior year at Dunedin High School, would not hurt anyone.
"He would not cause harm to nobody, nobody. He wasn't this troubled teen that was looking for trouble," Nix said.
Police disagree and pointed to Jones' lengthy juvenile arrest record. Just last month, Jones was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on drug charges. His July 19 arrest resulted in multiple charges including possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana and obstructing or resisting an officer without violence. He was released on bond two days later.
"DJ is loveable, caring, kind, passionate," Nix explained.
Jones appeared before a Pinellas County judge Tuesday afternoon and denied bond.
"I'll have to ask my parents," Jones responded when asked if he could afford an attorney. "I am in school."
Nix nor other family members showed up on his behalf.
Family members told ABC Action News they have not retained an attorney in the case.
The teen's mother was unable to talk to ABC Action News. She became hysterical when her son's mug shot was shown on the news and declined to comment.
VICTIM'S NEIGHBORS 'IN SHOCK' OVER MURDER
James Campbell recalls seeing Tross, a longtime neighbor, always playing with her two cats.
"They'd come home, they'd take the cats outside," explained Campbell.
According to Campbell, Tross and her boyfriend were inseparable and could not recall a time when he did not see the two together.
ABC Action News tried speaking to Staley Monday and again this afternoon. He has yet to comment.
"They were always together. I never saw them apart from each other," he explained.
Campbell described Tross as friendly, a good neighbor and animal lover.
"Always nice, you know she always had a smile on her face, I can't believe that she is not here anymore," he said.
VICTIM'S FAMILY MEMBERS MOURN ON SOCIAL MEDIA
ABC Action News reached out to several of Tross' family members on Facebook. We also reached out to a few of her family members living in the Chicagoland area but did not immediately hear back.
However, family and friends have turned her Facebook page into an online memorial, posting messages of disbelief.
"Just found out that they had found my cousin Lydia Tross body on Saturday," wrote Stephanie Oleszczuk. "All my love to her sisters and brother. She is now has your mother looking out for her. Be strong for each other. Love you all wish I could be there for you all. Lost of love from Chicago."
Condolences poured in from across the United States, some from friends that had known Tross for close to two decades.
"RIP Lydia you will be missed," posted Douglas Martyn of Palm Harbor.
PINELLAS TRAIL SAFETY
This recent homicide is shining a spotlight on security and safety at the Pinellas County Trail.
Safety concerns were first raised back on February 1 when a couple was beaten and robbed.
Detectives said Germaine Small and an accomplice attacked a couple who were riding their bicycles. The woman was pistol whipped and lost several of her teeth in the attack, police say.
Small was later apprehended in Georgia by Federal Marshals.
According to detectives, Small and the other suspect took the victims' bicycles and personal belongings at gunpoint and then ran off.
Major Phil Beahn, who overseas St. Pete PD District 3, which a portion of the trail runs through, says overall the trail is safe.
Beahn pointed to several robberies on the trail in the past and other petty crimes but said upped patrols had curtailed the crimes.
He explained the department is moving forward with a plan to place surveillance cameras between 49th Avenue South and 43rd Avenue South. The department is currently looking into sources to fund the project, Beahn added.
"Overall it is not a troublesome area when you think
about how many people utilize the trail throughout the year," said Beahn. "Unfortunately, some of the incidents that happen out there are more high profile."
According to Beahn, police are making changes at trouble spots on the trail.
"We've done some things to try and enhance the trail. We've looked at removing graffiti, trimming landscaping and another one of the recommendations is installing cameras, surveillance cameras on part of the trail," he explained.
Installing cameras would cost around $50,000 and Beahn said the department is looking for funding. Should the project get under way, the first set of cameras would be installed between 49th and 43rd Avenues South.
If you do plan on using the trail, Beahn urges you to never walk or ride a bike alone and to be aware of your surroundings.
"The trail is a county park and closes at night, so we don't recommend being on the trail at night at all," he added.