LITHIA, Fla. -- Walking into the Hulett home, the first few things that catch your attention are the kids’ toys, the number of children running around and of course, their laughter.
So much laughter.
And pictures of their children -- Bradley, Ava, Alaina, Sloane and Biagio -- show a large, vibrant and active family.
Meagan Hulett likes it that way, loud that is. Bradley’s contagious laughter echoing upstairs is something she says she’ll miss from her oldest son.
“His bedroom was the bonus room up there. He played video games a lot and he was always laughing with his headphones on talking to his friends over there so it’s really hard to not hear that all the time.” Meagan said.
On Tuesday, the Hulett family packed their 2-story home with friends, family and community members, some of which hadn’t met each other before. Yet, dozens and dozens showed up to pay their respects and to celebrate their son’s 16th birthday without him.
“I didn’t want his birthday to be negative at all,” Meagan tells ABC Action News Bradley was extremely positive, saw the bright side to almost everything.
It’s been nine Fridays since Bradley was killed. The Hulett’s can’t help but count because Friday’s were always the loudest, busiest nights of the week.
When you have five children and they each have five friends, the Huletts said with a laugh, it made for interesting Friday nights.
“We would walk upstairs and you would have to step over people for where you were going. But Friday nights are very hard because it’s quiet and they were never quiet before. And it’s also the day that it happened, so Fridays are bad.” The two parents said — finishing each other’s sentences.
It was December 13 when a teenager called 911 to report that another teen had been shot in a home on Bridgewater Drive inside the Fish Hawk Trails community. According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, there were three other teenagers at the home, which belongs to a Tampa Police Department officer. Bradley had been shot and was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Since then, the investigation has revealed the three teenagers found a weapon inside an allegedly locked master bedroom, a personal weapon also owned by the TPD police officer. The officer was on duty and not home at the time.
In what neighbors call a lethargic legal process, charges have still not been filed against the homeowner or the teenager responsible for pulling the trigger.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office released this statement on February 6:
"The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has completed its investigation into the tragic death of a young victim from a gunshot that took place on December 13, 2019 in the FishHawk Ranch community. Our investigation consisted of a complete crime scene analysis, review from the medical examiner, discussions with the victim’s family, social media analysis, and a ballistics analysis. We have patiently, but persistently, waited for the other teenagers involved in this incident to provide statements to our investigating detectives. All three of the teenagers who were present the night of this shooting retained lawyers immediately following the incident. Only two of the three have spoken to our investigators, and the most recent of those statements happened just days ago. The homeowner, a Tampa Police Officer, has through his attorney provided limited information to our detectives. All involved, of course, have the right to counsel, but this limitation has prolonged the investigation as we have tried to determine how this young man died on the evening of December 13th. Despite these many hurdles, our investigators have worked swiftly and diligently to ensure that all evidence available is considered.
Earlier today, our detectives presented all of the available evidence to the State Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney’s Office will ultimately determine the next steps and who will be prosecuted as a result of this tragedy. Because this remains an open investigation, we are not able to provide the facts our detectives have discovered. Our criminal justice system works best when our detectives and prosecutors are free to conduct a thorough and complete review of every fact, every witness statement, and every issue in a case. The same is true in this instance. While many have called for swift justice and quick criminal action, it has taken time to uncover the facts about how this death occurred.
We at the Sheriff's Office believe that anyone handling a gun should behave with the presumption that the gun is loaded. We believe that all responsible gun owners should take steps to secure weapons beyond the reach of anyone, especially children and teenagers. Had those steps been taken that night, this tragedy would likely not have happened.
Incidents like these do not lend themselves to soundbites or our social media driven culture. These are complicated cases that require an in-depth understanding of what took place. This young victim’s family deserves our empathy and frankly a better world. In this fallen world, the best we can do is find a path to justice and hopefully within that justice some comfort of peace." - Sheriff Chad Chronister
While it’s only been two months since the incident, Bradley’s parents say they’ve had time to think and are now pursuing the complete truth. While they believe charges are coming, they just want the answers as to why their boy was killed.
“Charges, what are they going to fix? Are they going to bring Bradley back no. Would they be proper? Yes. I believe they should happen. But they don’t define how I feel, not like they did a month or so ago.” Brad Hulett, Bradley’s father said.
Brad, a gun owner himself cannot wrap his mind around how the shooting took place. Saying anyone, especially an officer, should know how to stow away a weapon properly.
“I have a weapon, it’s in a safe. I have the combination, I have the key. One thing I can assure any parent when their kid came over here is you don’t have to worry about your child. We value them as much as our own. And we wish that would have happened with our son as well.” Brad said.
A little more than two months have gone by and the case is now in the State Attorney’s hands. Andrew Warren will be looking over this investigation and according to a statement, the state is looking for additional evidence including statements, forensic evidence and, or documentation.
“The State Attorney’s Office has been working with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office since the shooting occurred. Last Thursday, after completing the initial investigation into the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office presented its factual findings to our office. At that time, our office identified additional investigative steps that are necessary before making any charging decisions, and we promptly began taking those additional steps to ensure a complete and thorough review of all the facts and issues resulting from this tragedy.
It is not unusual in any case of this magnitude for our office to conduct additional investigation beyond the initial investigation performed by our law enforcement partners. This may include identifying and interviewing new witnesses, re-interviewing existing witnesses, obtaining supplementary documentation, or seeking physical or forensic evidence.
It has been nearly two months since the incident occurred, and although the Sheriff’s Office presented its findings last week, we understand the community’s desire for a quick charging decision. The legal analysis required before making a charging decision takes time even in situations where all the relevant evidence is readily available. In this instance, where additional evidence is needed, it is difficult to predict how long it will take to obtain that information, especially when considering the possibility of uncooperative witnesses and the potential need to compel evidence through subpoenas or other judicial processes. In light of these variables, announcing a precise timeline for any charging decision would be irresponsible. We will continue to work diligently to conduct an exhaustive investigation as quickly as possible.
This investigation is now squarely within our office. To protect the integrity of our investigation and any prosecution that may result from it, we cannot provide specifics about the evidence or respond to rumors or speculation concerning the shooting. This office is committed to transparency, and as always, we will fulfill our commitment by providing whatever information we can about a pending matter without compromising the integrity of an investigation, while respecting the privacy of victims and safeguarding the constitutional rights of all involved. Furthermore, in this matter, we will continue to update the victim’s family as our search for the truth continues. We cannot thank the family enough for the strength, patience, and grace they have demonstrated throughout this unspeakable tragedy.”
- Office of the State Attorney
The Hulett family says while they are looking for justice for Bradley, their focus now is staying positive like Bradley would have wanted.
Bradley, an academic superstar and an athlete who played travel basketball for the Valrico Venom. In his honor, the team has been rebranded and named BH3 Foundation.
“I think it’s something Bradley would have been extremely happy with,” his father said with a smile on his face.
BH3 is nonprofit which will help fund less fortunate players who cannot afford to travel and play sports, no matter the type.
Meagan said it was his favorite thing in the world.
“We went to two away tournaments last year. We went to Orlando with all of his friends and then we went to Atlanta to a basketball tournament with all of his friends. And Bradley said those were the best weekends of his life to go and do that,” she said.
After Bradley’s death, his entire team signed the ball and presented it to his parents, now enclosed by a special glass case.
ABC Action News asked both Brad and Meagan if they had a message for Bradley on his 16th birthday.
His mother, filled with tears, admitted she couldn’t muster anything up to say. Brad, his father though, made a promise to his son.
“I am going to fight for you son. And we are going to get answers and we are going to get the truth and ultimately we are going to get justice if it’s the very last thing we do,” he said.