Before his arrest and the national exposure that ensued, 15-year-old Edwin McFarlane led an ordinary teenage life with his mom and younger brother.
Now, with child-abduction charges behind him, the Lake County teen has two National Football League players and a team of other mentors to help guide him into adulthood.
Edwin and his mother, Mildred Roman, spoke Thursday about their ordeal, which began June 10 at a west Orange County Burlington Coat Factory.
Deputies arrested Edwin on suspicion of trying to abduct a 3-year-old girl after he walked out of the store with the child. Edwin said he was trying to help the girl find her mother.
Until the State Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that it would not prosecute, the teen could have faced a charge of false imprisonment.
"He's very strong," Roman said. "He's been stronger than I have. He stayed positive and he knew he didn't do anything wrong. He knew in his heart the truth was going to come out."
Speaking to a room full of TV cameras at the Orlando office of their attorney, Natalie Jackson, the family focused on the future.
Edwin said he felt relieved when the charges were dropped. He said he would help another lost child in spite of what happened.
"Yes, I would, but I'd do things differently," Edwin said.
Edwin's case, which went national, attracted the attention of Pittsburgh Steelers veteran Max Starks, who was born in Orlando, and Steelers draft pick Maurkice Pouncey of Lakeland. They volunteered to mentor Edwin. He promised to contact them and his other new mentors — lawyers Jameil McWhorter, Dennis Salvagio and Anthony Hall — at least once a month.
Two more mentors, a Valencia Community College student and a football player for the U.S. Naval Academy, will hear from Edwin twice a month, said Glinda Pruitt, who works in Jackson's office and was instrumental in lining up the mentors.
"I was looking forward to him becoming a successful adult," Roman said. "Now he has more people looking forward to that."
Edwin, who is 6-foot-2, dreams of being a first-round pick in the NFL, He also plans to maintain a 2.5 or better grade-point average in high school, earn a college scholarship, maintain relationships with his mentors and attend culinary school, Jackson said.
She is trying to get him a scholarship to a private high school.
An action plan prepared by Jackson's office calls for Edwin to be tutored at least once a week after school, play high-school football, participate in Starks' youth football camp and attend Orlando Magic games with longtime fan Salvagio.
Other details include volunteering for a service organization, being a role model for his 12-year-old brother, and participating in activities and counseling at Discovery Church in Orlando.
Jackson wouldn't let Edwin answer questions about the incident at Burlington Coat Factory. She still hopes to get Edwin's arrest expunged from his record.
The teen also had little to say about his plans for the future, answering several questions with silence or just a word or two.
"We call Edwin the quiet, gentle giant," Jackson said. "He's just a quiet kid."
He did say that he doesn't feel angry. As for deputies who arrested him, his mother said, "He felt that they were his friends, but they kind of broke that trust."
The Orange County Sheriff's Office referred the case for possible prosecution, but on Monday Sheriff Jerry Demings asked State Attorney Lawson Lamar not to charge Edwin.
Roman said she doesn't blame deputies for investigating. However, "It should have ended where it started, and that is at the store."
Susan Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-540-5981.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun