02:01 - Source: CNN
Teen killed by officer once wrote: 'I hate my mind'

Story highlights

Tony Robinson's uncle says the teen often felt like a misfit

The 19-year-old was killed by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, last week

He pleaded guilty to armed robbery but was turning his life around, his family says

(CNN) —  

Friends called him Tony. Family knew him by his middle name, Terrell.

Now, Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.’s name is written on signs carried by demonstrators who say they’re demanding justice after a police shooting ended the unarmed teen’s life.

As Wisconsin state investigators begin their inquiry into the controversial case, details are emerging about the 19-year-old biracial man.

Turin Carter described his nephew as a person who had struggled to fit in.

“A lot of his identity was formed because of his racial ambiguity. … Terrell felt (like) a misfit most of his life,” Carter said

At one point, Carter said, his nephew’s desire to fit in led him astray.

“Terrell just wanted to be loved, honestly … and as a result, made some poor decisions, and I think that’s something we can all relate to,” he said.

’In between being a teen and a man’

Last year, Robinson found himself in jail after stealing an Xbox and TV during a home invasion.

Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. had anxiety issues and depression.
Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. had anxiety issues and depression.

An adviser with the Robinson family attorney told CNN the teen fell on hard times after his dad lost his job and then his apartment, forcing Robinson to live with friends.

He pleaded guilty in December to armed robbery and was sentenced to probation.

That same month, he wrote a post on Facebook slamming police: “The only thing cops are trained for is to shoot first and ask questions later.”

Court documents from the case include letters the family wrote, asking the court to show mercy and vowing that the teen would never repeat his mistake.

“Tony has made a grave decision, one which may cost him his freedom, but before a decision is made I want you to know him as his family does. A loving son, a responsible older brother and a kindhearted, incredibly intelligent young man with hopes and dreams to become successful and to move forward in life,” wrote Lorien Carter, his aunt. “Growing up impoverished, and without his father, Tony managed to excel in school and sports. Graduating high school a semester early, he was on a great track.”

His grandmother, Sharon Irwin, described him as “a great kid in between being a teen and a man.”

“What he did was wrong. Following behind a boy he just met. He didn’t want to go yet did it anyway,” she wrote. “That is one of his issues. Impulsive. The other is being a follower.”

Carter said his nephew’s run-in with the law last year had nothing to do with last week’s shooting. Robinson paid his debt to society and was trying to find his way and better his life, according to his uncle.

“They try to associate his past with this act, to paint a picture about the type of kid he was,” he said. “He was a good, kindhearted kid who was very happy and just wanted to be accepted and wanted to be loved.”

’I hate my mind’

A GoFundMe page collecting donations for Robinson’s family says he was hoping to go to college and study business.

Recent social media posts from the teen point to a troubling time in his life.

In one post, he wrote, “I hate my mind.” Another said, “I don’t need help im not crazy.”

A post from January says, “My soul is dying.”

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, citing court documents, Robinson dealt with anxiety issues, depression and ADHD.

Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, stressed that her son was never violent.

“My son has never been a violent person, never,” she told CNN affiliate WKOW. “To die in such a violent way baffles me.”

During a confrontation before Friday night’s shooting, Officer Matt Kenny suffered a blow to the head, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said. He has been placed on paid administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said officials aren’t going to put the teen on trial.

“That’s not what this is about. What this is about is finding out exactly what happened that night and to determine, then, responsibility,” he told CNN’s “AC360.”

“We know that he was not armed, and as far as the police chief and I are concerned … the fact that Tony was involved in any kind of transgression in the past has nothing to do with this present tragedy.”

Ryan Young reported from Madison. Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN’s Justin Lear, Sara Weisfeldt and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.