RIVERVIEW — Tim Braun took to Facebook on July 13 to tell the world, or at least friends, how determined he was save his marriage.
"Will not give up on my wife," he typed in black letters on a light green pattern of stylized cats. "Rather die first."
Two hours later, Braun was dead, shot by sheriff’s deputies who said he ignored commands to drop a handgun, then raised it at them. Braun had shown up at his estranged wife’s Riverview home and refused to leave, deputies said.
People who knew Braun are left to wonder about his final moments: Was he so drunk he didn’t know what was happening? Had he decided he wanted to die?
"He was a good person with a good heart," said his wife, Vicky Cox. "He didn’t deserve to go out like that and I don’t know why he did."
Braun’s multiple Facebook accounts tell the story of a man who rooted for the Dallas Cowboys and loved to grill while his dogs lounged nearby. He had a penchant for patriotic memes festooned with flags, eagles and uniformed members of the U.S. armed forces.
On July 8, he shared a post from a page called All Lives Matter that featured a smiling uniformed police officer holding a pizza. The accompanying text said: "Would you eat pizza with a police officer? Comment, like and share."
Records show Braun was born in Alabama but spent more than two decades in Texas before moving to Florida.
Between 1986 and 2012, Texas records show, he was arrested half a dozen times and served jail or prison time for passing forged checks, driving under the influence and robbery. He was released from his last stint in custody in 2013.
By 2014, he was living in the Gibsonton area. In March of that year, a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy saw him and another man walking across the railroad tracks near Grace Road and Mottie Road, within feet of posted "no trespassing" signs, according to an arrest report. He was arrested on a trespassing charge. At the time, jail records show, Braun was living on Mottie Road, just a couple of houses away from the tracks. It was his only arrest in Florida.
His short marriage to Cox seemed to start happily enough. In August 2016, she posted a photo of a pair of wedding rings still cradled in a felt-lined jewelry box.
"Forever baby," she typed on the post.
They signed a marriage license that October. In early November 2016, Cox announced on Facebook that their wedding ceremony would be held at the Bullfrog Creek Bar in Gibsonton. Braun posted photos later of family and friends dancing at the reception.
But by the following March, the couple had apparently separated. That month, Cox posted a meme on Facebook: "When a woman no longer gets frustrated and upset with you, you can almost guarantee that she doesn’t care anymore."
Braun replied with a comment: "Just don’t think you understand how much I love and miss you."
Braun was also seeing another woman, said Lori Yeago, canteen manager of VFW Post 8108 in Riverview, where Braun served as an officer on the post’s auxiliary.
"He’d leave (the girlfriend), go back to Vicky and come back," said Yeago, who also serves as auxiliary treasurer.
Yeago met Braun two or three years ago when he first started coming to the post. He said he served in the Air Force and would banter with other veterans about airplanes. The more beer he drank, the thicker his southern twang would become.
"He was, in his words, a functioning alcoholic," Yeago said. "He’d say that to me and I’d say, ‘Are you functioning?’ But he had a really good heart and he did like to help."
Braun regularly cooked up bacon and eggs for the post’s weekly Sunday breakfasts, staying after to clean up, she said.
On July 12, Yeago said, the girlfriend reported that Braun had left her again. That same day, Yeago exchanged text messages with Braun. He told her he had a new job doing asphalt paving that he thought would help with his depression.
About 12:50 a.m. on Friday, Braun posted a public note on Facebook: "Luv my wife, that’s all there is to it. If people don’t like it or me I’m sorry."
Then, about 30 minutes later, he put up the post about dying before he’d gave up on her.
To that, Cox replied with a public comment: "You should of thought about that when you lied, cheated and stole from me." She accused him of taking money out of her account to pay off another debt.
In an ensuing exchange, Braun admitted to lying but denied cheating or stealing. He told her not to doubt his love for her.
"And I won’t walk away like I did before," he typed. "I want to be with you til the end."
• • •
About 3 a.m., Cox arrived home to her rented travel trailer on Estates Del Sol Drive in Riverview and found Braun inside, according to the Sheriff’s Office. She called 911 when he refused to leave.
Braun was outside in the neighbor’s yard when deputies Dannette Brennan and Joshua Berrios arrived, Sheriff Chad Chronister told reporters later that morning. Through the darkness, he said, deputies could see Braun holding two objects. When the deputies commanded him to drop what he was holding, Braun threw a koozie-wrapped beer can across a fence but held onto a silver object the deputies realized was a small firearm.
They repeatedly ordered him to drop the gun, the sheriff said, but Braun instead turned and pointed the gun toward them. Both deputies fired, hitting Braun multiple times. He died at the scene.
Cox spoke briefly when a reporter visited this week. Standing outside the trailer, she said Braun had problems but she couldn’t understand why he did what deputies say he did.
Yeago said his friends and acquaintances are split between two possible explanations.
The first theory, which Yeago said she wants to believe, is that Braun was so drunk he didn’t comprehend what was happening and didn’t mean to point the gun at deputies.
Others think he acted deliberately. A suicide by cop.
"I don’t know which is true, and I just choose to believe what I choose to believe," Yeago said. "He was a good guy that just couldn’t get it together."
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.