Family, police ask for tips in murder investigation after five years with no arrests
Tonya Thomas clutched a framed photo of her son close to her chest as Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler recalled details of her son’s murder more than five years ago in what investigators believe may have been a case of mistaken identity.
The photo she carried around the police department Friday showed her eldest child and only son, Javare Thomas, in a Chicago Bulls hat and a white t-shirt. Standing at the podium next to investigators, Tonya Thomas pleaded for anyone with information about what happened on the night of March 22, 2014, to come forward and share the details with police.
“As a mother, this will never go away. Ever. My family suffered very much. Not only my family, the community, his friends. Javare is well-known as a loving person and we will keep our hearts as a family as a whole to uplift his standards,” Tonya Thomas said.
Javare Thomas, a former football coach, would be turning 31 this year, but instead police are asking for tips to help them close the investigation of his death more than five years later. His mother remembered her son as the person who would put a smile on someone’s face and light up a room.
Tonya Thomas said her son once lifted a man who had fallen from his chair and carried the man back inside.
“This was my hero. This was my king. This was my soul,” Tonya Thomas said. “No, there are not easy day,s but I fight for easy days. I hold my head up with dignity and pride knowing this is what my son would want me to do. To live. To fight. Not give up hope. To believe that someone one day will come and stand and say they know something about this case.”
Friday, Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler put out a plea to the public, asking for any information that could help detectives make an arrest. While no suspect has been developed, Tyler said they have a person of interest, though he declined to provide many details in order to protect the investigation.
Thomas was shot early March 22, 2014, while riding as a passenger in a car through Palmetto and died from his wounds. He was 26 years old.
Thomas was in the car with two friends after leaving The Hall, a former Palmetto nightclub on U.S. 301. The group was driving west on Haben Boulevard around 2:45 a.m. when someone in a truck fired shots at the passenger side of the vehicle with Thomas inside.
They drove Thomas to Manatee Memorial Hospital but he did not survive, according to Tyler.
Two others inside the vehicle were not hurt and were cooperative with police after the fatal incident.
Tyler said Friday they believe the person of interest in the investigation was involved in a fight at The Hall earlier that night. Investigators believe that person looked to continue the fight outside of the nightclub and followed the vehicle with Thomas inside.
But police have nothing to indicate Thomas or those he was with that night were involved in the altercation or were the intended targets, and believe the person followed the wrong vehicle in the dark, Tyler said.
“Senseless violence like this is a plague on our community,” he said.
The original lead investigator on the case, now former Palmetto police Detective Chad Oyler, told the Bradenton Herald at the time they believed the shooter was in a black, lifted pickup truck with dark-tinted windows and possibly chrome trim. Five to seven shots were fired, he said.
Oyler retired in early 2018, and Detective Joe Rogers has taken over the investigation since he became a homicide detective earlier this year. Tyler said he believes a fresh set of eyes will bring them closer to closing the case.
“There’s nothing worse for any detective than to have a case that’s unsolved,” Rogers said. “It’s like a black eye. You never want to have a case go unsolved. Even though I’m new to this case, my goal is to make sure the person responsible for this spends some time in state prison.”
Tyler said Oyler has been able to assist Rogers with the ongoing investigation. Though Tyler noted they have been aggressively following up leads, the investigation has taken years and they would like to see it brought to a close sooner rather than later.
“The more time that passes between a crime, the harder it is to solve it. We already have a lot of background on this, but it’s going to be difficult at best,” Tyler said. “We believe that in the time since this has happened that there are people out in the community or maybe people that have knowledge of this case or have been talking about it. We believe that probably there are people that have a guilty conscience about it because who wouldn’t? Those are the people we want to hear from.”
Anyone with information about what happened can call Palmetto Police Department at 941-721-2000 or Manatee County Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS. They can also go online at ManateeCrimeStoppers.com. A reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.