This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Tyler Howell never truly grew out of his terrible twos.
He was a rambunctious handful his entire life. His mother Angela Mantlo described him as hell on wheels with a heart of gold.
Growing up, Tyler was a skinny kid with a screechy voice. He and his three best friends loved to dance and would often perform in talent shows. When they weren’t dancing, the four friends tried their hand at rapping.
When Tyler got older, he started working as an ironworker before changing paths and working with his grandfather as a house painter.
Tyler loved to be around people, especially his family. He was the oldest of three children, and, while he couldn’t be more different than his sister, they were best friends.
That’s why his mother believes he loved Thanksgiving so much – he got to spend time with his family at his great-aunt’s house each year.
Tyler loved all holidays. He loved the gift-giving spirit of Christmas even as he got older. Every year for his birthday, no matter what he was doing, he would always come home to feast on his favorite dish, chicken Ritz casserole.
“For Valentine’s Day, he had to have mom get him his heart candy,” Angela recalled with a smile. “He had to have it. To this day I take it to his gravesite.”
On the night of October 21, 2018, Tyler was chatting on the phone outside of his mother’s house. Angela came to ask if he would be coming in soon. When Tyler acknowledged her request, Angela said she was heading to bed. She told him she loved him and that she would see him in the morning.
That was the last time they spoke.
Tyler didn’t go inside the house. Instead, he ended up in his cousin’s car.
The two cousins were enjoying a night together in Milton, Florida when they were pursued by another car. The suspects soon hijacked the car Tyler was riding in after they put a gun to the cousin’s head.
Tyler was still in the car. After driving down the road a bit, the suspects then shot Tyler and left him on the side of John Hamm Road.
Tyler Howell was just 21.
Police believe the incident was drug-related and not a random encounter.
Angela says that the suspects knew Tyler, that it was potentially a drug deal gone bad.
As Tyler got older, he began to experiment with drugs. “That gives no reason to take his life,” Angela stated.
As the case began to make the news, one article indicated that Tyler was homeless. Angela believes this false claim belittled her son and made it look as though he was all alone.
“He wasn’t alone. He had his momma. He had his family,” Angela said.
Losing her oldest son was a life changer for Angela. She recalls feeling as if her whole world was gone. She often thinks about the hopes and dreams she had for Tyler, how she wanted to see him become a father.
Those dreams were abruptly taken away from her – and from Tyler.
Angela visits Tyler’s grave every week. And, of course, she brings the heart candy for Valentine’s Day.
She can still hear her son’s infectious laugh from time to time. Angela will hear a song, remember a joke, or begin to reminisce about a memory with Tyler.
“But mainly, it’s everything. I think about him every day.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Tyler Howell, please call the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office at 850-983-1190. To remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $3,000, contact the Santa Rosa County Crime Stoppers at 850-437-STOP.
Research & Impact
Project: Cold Case works to educate survivors and the public about unsolved murders. The ins and outs of cold case policies have often been a source of confusion and questions for families.
There is no universal definition of a cold case or standards adopted across all agencies in how to work with survivors. Even learning that some agencies don’t staff a dedicated cold case unit or single detective can be a harmful realization for survivors.
While the national push of awareness for cold case homicides continues to grow, some are working towards producing better practices for agencies to follow. The National Institute of Justice recently published a best practices book for agencies looking to implement and sustain a cold case unit.
Whenever survivors first discover Project: Cold Case, we work with them to advocate for their loved ones from a more informed position. We always suggest that survivors start by reaching out and re-engaging with the investigating agency. Learn if the agency has a cold case department or a specific detective to work on cold cases. The goal of every interaction should be to build relationships and ensure that a consistent line of communication is always open.
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