By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The Hernandezes returned to their house in Palmetto Bay. The phone rang. It was a reporter from the Miami Herald. "Are you aware that your son has confessed?" inquired the journalist.
Today outside Southwood Middle School there is a memorial to Jaime Gough. Two benches are covered with tiles painted by Jaime's friends and teachers. They have pictures of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which Jaime loved. One has the answers from an algebra test ("Unit Test, Chapter 4") that Jaime had received an A+ on.
"Jaime, shy and elusive. We'll miss you. Ms. Denn" reads one message. A local Boy Scout troop landscaped the memorial, planting the flowering shrubs that now scatter petals around the ceramic turtle placed on the ground.
In the 2004 Southwood yearbook, Jaime's friends placed a full-page memorial in the back of the book with the boy's eighth grade school picture, the same image that was plastered across newspapers and television screens. For a school portrait, it's delightfully expressive. Jaime's glasses have fallen down his nose. His mouth is fixed in a mischievous half-grin. He still has a bit of baby fat around his cheeks and he glances slightly upward. For all reports that Jaime was shy and occasionally picked on, he looks happy, like a kid with a great sense of humor. An acrostic on the yearbook page reads:
A ceremony in honor of Jaime was held one year after the murder, the culmination of a "Peace Week" at Southwood, organized by the student council to shake the cloud that had descended upon their school. On that day, students formed a circle around Jorge and Maria Gough, Jaime's parents. Accompanied by their younger daughter, the family released a basketful of butterflies, an insect Jaime had loved. One landed on Maria's shoulder and remained there for most of the ceremony.
Michael Hernandez's family did not attend the ceremony. "We sent [the Goughs] a note. We have talked with both parents. They are nice people, decent people," Kathy Hernandez says. "I'm sorry for their pain and loss, but I'm sorry for my family's too. I had hoped there would be some kind of understanding that we're hurting too." In a way, Kathy Hernandez lost her son that day, too.
The Hernandez family woke up on Wednesday, February 4, 2004, in a new world. Their day began around 3:00 a.m., when the juvenile detention center called to inform them that Michael was there and that the family would be charged two dollars a day for his room and board.
By dawn the trucks had pulled up outside. The house lit up inside from the lights of the cameras. The phone rang and rang with requests for interviews; letters would soon follow, including one from the Montel Williams Show. Someone from Southwood called to inform them of Michael's expulsion. "Like we didn't already know that," says Kathy Hernandez, bitterly.
Miami-Dade Police were in the house, combing through Michael's room for relevant evidence. They took his computer, his games, and journals. Kathy says much of the day was a blur. The public defender visited, along with a social worker. A lot of friends, his friends' parents, all of their neighbors visited.
"I never want to feel that again," she says, remembering those first days. "It's a pain. You can do nothing to make it better. You wake up and think, 'Oh no, that didn't happen,' but then you see the trucks outside. There are still days where I think maybe if I go pick him up at school he'll be there."
She sits in a glider in her living room and rocks slightly. Photo albums filled with portraits of Michael Michael in his baseball uniform, Michael as a towheaded child holding a large red crayon, Michael with chubby cheeks and an Easter basket sit on the dining room table in the next room.
Michael was born on February 2, 1990, the second child of Manny and Kathy Hernandez. (His 22-year-old sister, Cristina, is presently in college in North Florida.) His mother says he was a bright, talkative, inquisitive child. In most photos he is smiling, or giving someone bunny ears. At Southwood he was a good student in the school's gifted program. Even transcripts of interviews taken from classmates and teachers in the days following the murder describe a teenager who seemed neither sullen nor violent.
In a detective's interview with one teacher who taught both Jaime and Michael as seventh graders, the teacher said, "Jaime was quiet and had a great sense of humor that he showed to his personal friends. He was not interested in getting attention from anyone whom he wasn't close with. Michael is extremely charismatic. He is very much a people person and enjoyed the attention of the entire class. He likes to get to know all different kinds of people and made it a point to socialize with everyone."
She added that sometimes Michael needed to be reprimanded.
"He didn't do anything that was hugely terrible. He would talk when he wasn't supposed to, walk, he might get up and walk around when he wasn't supposed to be walking around. He would tell a joke to a friend and would get everyone to start laughing."