BARTOW, Fla. - The day after the sheriff of Polk County made a plea for help to find the suspects who "massacred" a high school student at a Bartow park, detectives announced two teenagers were arrested for murder.
During a press conference Wednesday, Sheriff Grady Judd said at least four Black males were involved in the shooting death of 17-year-old Taigur Taguri on Monday night. Judd said within 10 hours of the investigation starting, detectives were knocking on the door of one of the suspects, 16-year-old Jevon Berrien Jr., who lives on Gause Street in Bartow.
Also at the home was his cousin, 16-year-old Margus Johnson, who was also arrested.
The deadly shooting occurred when Taguri arrived at Gordon Heights Park with the intent of selling marijuana, Judd said.
"They planned this grand scheme to get this marijuana dealer to come to them and then they would rob him of his marijuana," the sheriff said, adding that they had no intention for paying for the drugs. "For whatever reason, they decided to shoot. Margus tells us he didn’t have a firearm."
Judd said Berrien, an 11th grader at Bartow High School, and Johnson, an 11th grader at Fort Meade High, were among those sitting on picnic tables when Taigur’s pickup truck approached their location. They walked over, pulled open the doors, and the gunshots started.
Taguri was heard saying "no" and "don't" before shots were fired. After, Taguri accelerated his pickup truck, crashing into a fence and playground equipment. He was shot multiple times. His female passenger was uninjured, according to the sheriff's office.
Taigur Taguri was identified as the shooting victim. (Photo provided by the Polk County Sheriffs Office)
"The suspects ran from the scene," Judd said. "This was an ambush. An absolute ambush."
Detectives used social media channels to determine who may have communicated with the Taguri. They also gathered the shell casings left behind at Gordon Heights Park. During a search at Berrien's home, they say they found a loaded Glock 9mm handgun in his bedroom. The gun and spent casings were sent to FDLE's lab in Tampa for testing. The forensic results came back showing the gun was a match with the ammunition found at the scene.
Judd said both teen suspects described themselves as "self-proclaimed gang members."
"What they did is not a juvenile crime. It’s an adult crime," the sheriff said. "It’s cold-blooded first-degree murder. As a result of that, we are asking that the state attorney…we’re asking him if he will consider transferring them both to adult court."
Photos via PCSO
While at Berrien's home, detectives said they came in contact with his father, 47-year-old Jevon Berrien Sr.
"He was really ugly and mouthy when we first got there," Judd said. "I don’t know how he thought that was going to work for him but it obviously didn’t."
The father was arrested on several drug-related charges including possession of meth and marijuana.
"I would say the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree," Judd said. "Had [Berrien Jr.] been provided the appropriate role model…we may not be in the position we are in today."
Taguri's pickup truck was towed to the Polk County Sheriff's Office for processing.
"That’s a scary thought," he continued "That’s what they are: children. You want to ask Jevon Berrien Sr., did it not occur to you that something was wrong?"
The sheriff said they are still trying to determine where the handgun came from as online records do not show it was stolen.
"When you have guns and you possess guns and you like guns, you’re responsible for them," Judd said. "Someway, somehow this 16-year-old got a handgun, illegally. I suggest it’s probably stolen but we can’t confirm it yet. He got this handgun and ultimately shot and killed a 17-year-old kid."
"It makes me angry," he continued. "It makes me completely angry that we've got kids killing kids... it makes me so angry that I want to poke my eyeballs out one at a time. But we're going to stop this and we're going to hold people accountable. Parents, I need your help. Start being a parent."
Judd said the investigation isn't over, and he is asking for the public to come forward with any information to track down the remaining suspects.
"We’re not going to stop until we arrest all four suspects, at least, who descended upon this truck," Judd said.
Heartland CrimeStoppers can be reached by calling 1-800-226-8477.