Natasha Bostic called the police three weeks ago to help her control her 16-year-old son, who was punching holes in the walls in a fit of rage.
The boy, Nathaniel Williams, snapped when his mom said his friend, who’d lived with them for months, had overstayed his welcome. The boys were getting into all sorts of trouble with police, and Williams' mom wanted the other boy, Gershon Woods, finally out of their house.
But it backfired. Williams ran away before the cops arrived. And just four days later, on Sept. 13, everything would change. The two boys stunned South Florida when they shot dead a well-liked bartender, Nelson Vega — so they could steal his Mercedes and go for a joy ride, police said.
Police records and interviews with the boys' families reveal a troubling account of their tumultuous lives before they were accused of murder. The records and interviews portray them as two boys intent on missing school, stealing cars and carrying out thefts, all while relatives would ask police to intervene.
“He’s never been the perfect angel," Bostic said of her son. "But I don’t think this was something he was planning on doing.”
Forging a friendship
Woods met Williams, whose nickname is “Pickle,” about a year ago, and they’ve been good friends ever since.
The boys aren’t related, but they are so tight they call each other cousins. They share many things in common. They’re about the same age. Williams is 16, and Woods' 17th birthday was Saturday.
They also saw how painful it was for their families when elder relatives died. Williams recently dealt with the deaths of his grandmother and a great-grandma, his mother said.
And you wouldn’t expect Woods to be involved in killing a man: His own grandfather was shot and killed by a group of kids many years ago, his grandmother said.
The granddad’s murder devastated his wife. She still prefers not to talk about the crime.
“For years I have been trying to put that behind me,” said Woods’ grandmother, Grace Weeks. “It’s hard, but we cope because we are a Christian family.”
Getting into trouble
But his granddad’s murder didn’t keep Woods away from a trail of run-ins with the law in Miami-Dade County, police records show. And his friend joined him in some excursions, the records show.
Williams' mother last year called police for help after her son refused to go to school. According to police, she complained he “is out of control: using drugs inside the house, breaking into people’s houses, stealing and disrespecting her.”
Williams and Woods worked together in September last year to steal an iPhone 6 from an off-duty police officer, who had left her keys and cellphone on a park bench while she played basketball in Miami Gardens, according to police records.
As the officer saw them speed-walking away and jumping a fence, the chase was on. She hopped into her patrol car and caught up with Williams, nabbing him. Woods' brother caught him hiding behind a house and helped turn him in.
In January, Woods' mother called authorities to report him missing, saying that she suspected him of using marijuana and “molly,” also known as ecstasy, and that he had been acting out and was not enrolled in school, according to records.
Soon after, in February, Miami Gardens police arrested Woods on the charge of third-degree grand theft of a 2012 Nissan Maxima.
In April, police were called again when a family friend said she rented a red 2019 Nissan Sentra from Woods' mother and Woods took the car without permission.
Williams faced a string of charges against him over the past year, too, ranging from criminal mischief to burglary to trespassing.
Woods moved into Williams' home months ago when he didn’t have a place to go, Williams' mother said. But by Sept. 9, she was tired of Woods still living in their home.
She remembers telling her son that “Gershon needs to go. His mom needs to figure out what she’s going to do with him. He didn’t need to stay with me,” she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday. That’s when her son got angry and starting punching holes in the walls, according to a police report.
She didn’t expect him to leave the house — he was on house arrest — but he still vanished when she called the police.
A deadly encounter
Four days later, the boys set out to find a nice car. They wanted to go for a joy ride, according to police. Then they came upon Vega, 39, while canvassing a neighborhood in Miramar, police said.
Vega was known by friends as a charismatic bartender. He had left the J.P. Mulligan’s sports bar with his girlfriend that night.
He was walking his girlfriend to her door and, according to the teens' account to police, left the keys in his car with the engine running. The boys made a run for his Mercedes C250.
Vega soon realized what was happening. When he went to stop the boys, one teen claimed Vega came at them, and so both teens fired at Vega at the same time, according to police.
Police said the boys each shot at Vega with “multiple rounds,” hitting him three times: twice in his chest and once in his pelvis. Nine casings were found at the scene, according to the arrest documents.
The boys sped off in the stolen Mercedes.
After the crime, the teens found Vega’s phone in the car and tossed it out the window, police said. One of the boys let the other out to go find another car and they met up at a gas station to put gas in both cars. Cops spotted the Mercedes and, after a chase, Woods ran from the car.
A helicopter and police dog found Woods hiding under a truck, and he was arrested. Police used a dog to sniff out a .380-caliber gun near where the teen was found hiding.
In Miami Gardens, a detective tried to wave down Williams, but Williams went right past the officer. The detective tried to get out of the way as the teen sped away, when a rear-view mirror struck the officer’s left hand, the officer wrote.
Williams later was found in a Kia SUV that had been stolen in Opa-locka, police said.
The boys' relatives said they didn’t know how the teens would get guns.
“The Gershon I know is he wasn’t raised up like that," Weeks said. "He was raised by a good family, a close-knitted family. He’s a very intelligent young man.”
Both teens were charged as adults Friday with murder and carjacking. Prosecutors are expected to seek life in prison for them if the grand jury issues an indictment.
Woods' grandmother said she’s angry the police never called the family to even tell them Woods was accused of murder. She learned about it only when the killing showed up on the news.
“It shocked me when they said his name,” Weeks said of her grandson’s arrest. “I don’t believe in the justice system. It’s not fair.”
Vega’s family is outraged that the boys didn’t face severe consequences long before. “How did these kids stay out of jail when there are multiple crimes, bad things?” asked Vega’s stepfather, Donnie Greenberg. “And these punks are out on the street? I don’t get it.”
Several residents were surprised to learn of the teens' arrest last month. Carl Pittman, whose home was burglarized last year in Miami Gardens, recalled that two teens were behind the heist at the time. The teens ran out of his house just as the police were arriving.
“It’s sad,” he said of how Williams now faces a murder charge. “He didn’t learn.”