One afternoon in late 2012, Michael left after being nasty to Gloria and the kids. She told him to come home early that night or they were finished. When Michael didn't show, Gloria put all his stuff in a bag and left it outside. She was done. "When he was with me, he was on track, he was great," she says. "Then after we parted, he started with bad things."
It was the same pattern he'd shown as a kid, tumbling from a good relationship and opportunity to depression and anger. Only this time, Adelia wasn't there to net his free fall. And heroin, the same drug that had killed his mom, entered the picture as his life shifted to Young Circle. He passed his time lying on the lawn, ducking cops and sneaking across the street to pull on a plastic bottle of vodka behind the number-nine bus stop.
"Everybody who was hanging here was a bunch of hood rats who didn't know how to be adults," says Jeremy, a homeless and tattered 20-something who idled days away with Michael.
Yet Savage, as everyone knew him there, found a high-five camaraderie in the park. Whenever he had money, he'd run to Walgreens for sodas for everyone. "He didn't start no trouble, didn't disrespect anyone," Jeremy says. "Savage was a good guy."
Violence was common as well, and Savage didn't hide from a fight. He swung on anyone who bothered the homeless women. "When I first bumped into that kid, I thought, 'Damn, this kid isn't going to live too long,'" says Leo, another circle regular. "He had a Tupac attitude — fuck the world. But then he'd be at the soup kitchen serving plates. Inside, he was a good-hearted person."
The park was likely where he met Stacy Goff. She was seven years younger, with dark pretty eyes and heart-shaped lips that spit out tough street-speak. Their common ground was emotional wear and tear. Stacy was the second oldest in a family of four girls born to James, a construction worker, and Margo, a stay-at-home mom, according to a family friend who asked to remain anonymous. When she was 10, Stacy's father died (of natural causes, according to the medical examiner). From there, the family bounced from address to address in Hollywood. Stacy soon bailed on high school and started running the streets.
The couple bonded over tattoos, as Stacy inked Michael and taught him how to use the needle. The couple soon moved together with three other friends into a cramped apartment in Hollywood. When Torres finally came back from New Jersey in December 2012, he stopped by. That's when alarms started blaring.
Michael was skinny and sick-looking. Stacy seemed fog-bound. Torres felt certain she was on pills or heroin. "She's taking you away from your goal," he'd warn him. But Michael didn't seem interested.
In March, Torres called Adelia and warned her about the drugs. For Adelia, it was the worst kind of déjà vu. "I went quickly into overdrive," she says. "I was going to lose him forever if I didn't do something quickly. It's exactly how it happened with my mom."
Adelia began plotting to get him home and arranged a rehab stay for Michael once he returned. But then he went AWOL. His phone stopped working. He wasn't living at the same address. Michael would ring up Torres from blocked numbers only to say he was still alive.
Adelia's updates came secondhand through Torres: Michael said he didn't want to come home. Then he said he'd come home, but he had to bring Stacy. Finally, Michael told Torres he thought someone was out to get him. Adelia was pregnant, and her doctor had put her on no-fly orders. Still, every day she talked to her husband about driving the 1,200 miles to Florida overnight. But then what?
She didn't know it, but Michael was now a Young Circle regular, spending his days in the park and disappearing at night to sleep in shelters, on friends' couches, or outside. She also didn't know he was getting sucked down deeper into a love triangle humming with violence.
By the spring of 2013, according to police records and interviews with friends, Stacy had fallen in with another 17-year-old, a stocky kid with soft eyes and bushy eyebrows named Alex Cabrera. The teen had a record. On August 14, 2012, he'd refused to pull over after police tried to stop his car. After blowing through three red lights, Cabrera was cornered at Phippen Waiters Road and West Dixie Highway in Dania Beach. Police pulled him from the car, cuffed him, and roughed him on the sidewalk. Footage of the fight made it onto local news. Cabrera was hit with charges of resisting arrest, battery on an officer, and possession of marijuana. (The charges were filed in juvenile court, so records are not available on how they were resolved.)