After his mother gave him away as a baby, Joshua Mendelson spent the first nine years of his life confined to a bedroom in his aunt's Dayton, Ohio, home.
As a youngster, he would sneak out at night and scour dumpsters, looking for food.
He attended school sporadically, and Ohio authorities later told his foster families that he had suffered daily abuse, starvation and beatings.
One time, Joshua was hit with a bat so hard in the back of his head that his eyes popped out. It took four surgeries to repair the damage, said Rachel Mendelson, who became his foster mother when he was 9 and later adopted him.
Before then, he had bounced around more than 30 foster homes in five months.
Eight years later, Joshua's troubled life is over. He was shot dead on Oct. 31 by a Fort Lauderdale police officer who said the 17-year-old was running at him, carrying a stick or a spear.
Officer Jonathan Welker and another officer were conducting canine training exercises at an office complex near the 3500 block of Prospect Road about 2 a.m. One of the officers radioed for backup after spotting ``a white male who looked like he was bleeding from his face and wielding some kind of stick or spear.''
His family said police later told them Joshua was carrying a stick.
Fort Lauderdale police are investigating the shooting.
Welker, the subject of six internal affairs investigations in his 11 years on the force -- four of those involving accusations of excessive force -- also was cleared in a 1996 shooting of a man who came toward him with what he thought was a club. It turned out to be a walking stick. The man survived the shooting.
The Mendelson family's attorney has asked Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Joshua's shooting. The governor's office is reviewing the request.
''We don't understand any of this. Joshua considered policemen his friends,'' Mendelson said. ``He knew that if he went to them they would help him. They were his heroes.''
Welker's attorney, Mike Dutko, called the incident ''bizarre'' and ''tragic,'' but added that Welker was reacting to a violent situation ``in accordance with his police training.''
''That does not minimize the death of this 17-year-old,'' Dutko added.
Broward Sheriff's Office reports indicate Joshua, who suffered from severe depression, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders -- did go to police for help on several occasions, asking that they take him to a hospital.
''He was extremely difficult to deal with because of the way he was kept isolated,'' said Mendelson, 38, of Pompano Beach. ``He had no social skills -- none. He didn't know what it was like to sit at a table and eat with utensils. He wouldn't look people in the eyes. He had problems trusting people and constantly tested me to see if I was going to abandon him.''
But Joshua, an 11th-grader who attended Cross Creek School Center -- an alternative school in Pompano Beach for children with emotional problems -- was not violent, friends and family said, even when he wasn't on his medication.
The only person he tried to hurt was himself.
According to BSO reports, Joshua told deputies on several occasions between 2004 and 2006 that he wanted to die, and asked the deputies to commit him to a hospital. They complied at least three times.
That's why, Mendelson said, her family doesn't understand how her 17-year-old son ended up shot to death by a police officer.
''There are so many questions that we'd like answered,'' Mendelson said.
The official police report has not been released because the case remains under inquiry.
Joshua, who had been reported missing Oct. 28, was bleeding from a wound on his head, was shirtless and carrying a stick, when he was approached by Welker, authorities said.
A few seconds later, Officer Mark Renner reported he was looking for the bleeding male, and Welker's voice crackled over the radio, ``Shots fired, the guy just ran at me.''
Joshua died instantly from the bullet that pierced his chest.
The last time the family saw Joshua was Oct. 28, when he told them he was going to Coral Square mall to meet a friend and buy a Halloween costume.
Joshua still was having problems and would run away when he fought with Mendelson, his friends said.
''He still had a lot of sadness going on, and he didn't want to live with his mother anymore,'' said family friend Deborah Morosini. ``He needed a lot of attention and sometimes felt he wasn't getting it.''
Mendelson works with underprivileged teens, helping them find jobs. Her home often is filled with young people who would tease Joshua, several of his friends said.
Joshua went to live at Covenant House in July and stayed there for a few months until moving in with Rachel Mendelson's brother, Michael Mendelson in Pompano Beach. He continued to attend school, and teachers said he did not have behavior problems.
''He was really doing good and loving everything,'' said Michael Mendelson, 35. ``Josh was coming out into his own and even had a girlfriend.''
Joshua's friends are mystified about why he didn't come home from the mall.
''He never called any of us after that night,'' said Brendan Honekman, a Coral Springs classmate of Joshua's.
He seemed to be happy about starting work at a carwash and was making plans to attend Atlantic Technical Center to become a welder, said Honekman, 16. Joshua hated confrontation and wouldn't raise his hand to anyone in anger, his friend said.
Homicide detectives are working with the Broward State Attorney's Office to determine where Joshua was in the three days before he was killed.
A memorial service was held for Joshua on Nov. 11 at Kraeer Funeral Home in Pompano Beach. Dozens of students from his school attended with their families.
Morosini, 47, saw Joshua about three weeks before the shooting, sitting in the office at Cross Creek, wearing a new button-down shirt.
''He looked so handsome,'' Morosini said. ``He was just beaming. My poor Josh. He was just getting his life together.''
''We cried a million tears when he died,'' she added. ``We still are.''
WHERE TO CALL
Anyone with information about where Joshua Mendelson may have been from Oct. 28 through Oct. 31 is asked to call the Fort Lauderdale police tips line at 954-828-5511.