ST. PETERSBURG - A 16-year-old St. Petersburg youth was in custody Tuesday night in connection with the shooting of St. Petersburg Police Officer David Crawford.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon announced the arrest during a media conference, saying the youth surrendered voluntarily and his parents had been cooperating with the investigation.
Harmon noted that it had been just about 24 hours since the “incident,” which claimed the life of the third St. Petersburg police officer in less than a month. Crawford was shot multiple times at close range about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 21.
Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger, 48, and K-9 Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, 39, were shot and killed while serving a warrant at a St. Petersburg home Jan. 24.
“The city of St. Petersburg mourns deeply the loss of Officer David Crawford, a 25-year veteran of the St. Petersburg Police Department,” was the statement posted on the city’s website Tuesday morning.
Dozens of tips came in to the police department after the shooting, and three of those tips led police to Nicholas L. Lindsey, a Pinellas County school student with prior arrests for nonviolent crimes, Harmon said. The name of Lindsey’s school was not released.
Lindsey turned himself in about 6 p.m. and, after telling police several versions of his story about what happened Monday night, finally “made admissions” about 8 to 8:30 p.m. that agreed with the evidence gathered at the scene, Harmon said.
“After he made the admissions, he was remorseful in his actions,” Harmon said. “He cried.”
Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies came together for a massive manhunt that closed several St. Petersburg schools and caused PSTA buses to deviate from their normal routes.
Schools will reopen on Wednesday morning, and PSTA bus routes have returned to normal.
Harmon said the teen would be charged with first-degree murder and taken to the Pinellas County Jail where he would be booked as a juvenile. It will be up to the State Attorney to decide whether he will be tried as an adult.
Lindsey allegedly admitted to being responsible for the initial incident Crawford and another officer were investigating. Harmon said Lindsey had acted alone. Police still are unsure how he got the gun, which was not in his custody at the time of the arrest. Harmon said he had given officers information about where the gun might be found.
Asked how it felt to be arresting a 16 year old for the shooting of an officer, Harmon said, “it breaks my heart … You don’t expect a confrontation between a 16 year old and a police officer to end like this. It doesn’t take away the pain. He’ll be paying for this the rest of his life.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster praised the action by the city’s police department and the community. He thanked the people for “not hiding the individual” and questioned how a “16-year-old kid found a way to possess a hand gun.”
He also said it was up to the community to stand up and do a better job “to make sure we raise good kids together.”
“This kid we lost,” he said.
Harmon and Foster said arresting a suspect in the shooting allowed officers to move on to the process of grieving. Foster asked everyone to continue to pray for Crawford’s family, the St. Petersburg Police Department and the community.
“We’re still numb from the incident,” Harmon said when asked if the arrest was making a difference in coping with the situation.