Andre Martin remembers it vividly: Michael Hernandez leading Martin and fellow schoolmate Jaime Gough into the bathroom at Southwood Middle School, then trying to lure his two friends into the handicap stall.
Martin balked. Gough didn’t. The school bell rang. Hernandez, a stickler for timeliness, backed off and the trio headed for class.
The next morning around the same time, Gough and Hernandez, both 14, entered the same bathroom stall. There, Hernandez overpowered the smaller teen, slit his throat and killed him.
Martin’s life was most likely spared because he simply forgot to meet his friends. His name was later discovered by police on a kill list created by Hernandez.
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“The exact same steps he took [the day of Gough’s murder], he used the day before,” Martin said. “When he said, ‘Let’s go into the stall,’ the situation didn’t seem right to me. Jaime volunteered, but Michael was adamant he needed to show me first.”
On Thursday, more than 13 years after the violent murder of his friend, Martin became a sworn member of Miami-Dade’s newest class of police officers. Before a cheering crowd of family and friends, Martin was awarded badge number 7047 and will begin his career patrolling the streets of West Kendall.
Hernandez, as inmate M65386 at the Columbia Correctional Institute in Lake City, Florida, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“He took that tragedy that happened and used it as fuel,” said Martin’s mentor Bill Hellman, a recently retired Miami-Dade detective who met Martin during the Gough murder investigation. “I think he’s got all the tools to be a great cop. He’s polished, poised and humble.”
Though Martin didn’t realize it until almost a decade after the murder, the deadly events of Feb. 3, 2004, set his law enforcement career in motion. Not long after Gough’s murder, Martin became heavily involved in martial arts, working his way up to fourth-degree black belt in Songahm tae kwon do. He believes the discipline helped him cope with his feelings.
In early 2016, Martin said his calling became clear during a re-sentencing for Hernandez. By then, with a girlfriend and a young daughter, it was obvious he couldn’t make much of a living teaching kids tae kwon do. So Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine, who worked with Martin before the hearing, introduced him to Hellman.
“He took me under his wing. He gave me the opportunity to really follow my dreams, which is helping others,” Martin said.
Martin, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to South Florida when he was 8. He met Hernandez in third grade at Perrine Baptist Academy. Afterward, they attended Robert Morgan Educational Center in South Miami-Dade. He said he considered Hernandez as his “best friend.”
Though they remained friends when the two transferred to Southwood Middle School, Martin said they were slowly drifting apart as Hernandez became more involved with heavy metal and developed an obsession with horror movies and violent music.
Martin said six months before Gough was killed, Hernandez disclosed to Gough that he wanted to become a serial killer. Then he began studying their mental illnesses.
“He said it in passing,” Martin said. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
The day before the murder — as was common — the three met up near the teacher’s parking lot before the start of school. Though they weren’t permitted inside without supervision, they found an unlocked door and followed Hernandez to the bathroom.
That day, though, Martin said he noticed several things about Hernandez that didn’t make sense. It was hot out and Hernandez was wearing a windbreaker. Once in the bathroom he took a hat out and put it on his head. Then the bell rang.
The next day Gough was murdered. When his body was discovered, the school at 16301 SW 80th Ave. was placed on lockdown with no students permitted to leave. Rumors flew: Someone had been robbed. A teacher found a gun.
Eventually word got out that a body had been found in the school’s bathroom. But Martin, who was at school but not in class during the search for the killer, didn’t realize his friend had been taken into custody until he got home and turned on a TV. A teacher noticed blood on Hernandez’s shirt and notified police.
In the ensuing months, Martin said detectives managed to hide his identity during the highly publicized investigation.
“It absolutely pushed me toward law enforcement. Seeing how the detectives protected me and my identity and handled the case,” Martin said.
Thursday, Martin put on his new uniform and took his seat on the stage with the 37 others who were to become sworn cops. His shoes were polished. His pants pressed. His mouth creased, a big smile popping up every few minutes.
During the 90-minute ceremony, Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez spoke of the tough times the new officers would be forced to navigate, like dealing with shooting deaths. He also told them how threats like terror and gun violence keep him awake at night.
Afterward, surrounded by his wife and daughter, Martin tried to remain stoic as he talked about his future.
“The department has always been there for me,” he said. “So I’m glad I have the opportunity to pay it forward to the community.”