Brian Cosgriff got to know Melvin D. Fletcher Jr. well over the years.
Cosgriff—the Alice Smith physical education teacher and head girls’ basketball coach—started teaching Fletcher when the boy was five. Later, Fletcher and his older brother, Mandel Perkins, lived with Cosgriff periodically when things got hard.
“He was a very low-key, easygoing guy—friendly, handsome athletic, mischievous—but never did I think he would hurt anybody,” Cosgriff said. “From the bottom of my heart, I know he was a good kid. I mean, I left my daughter with him.”
But on Monday, police say Fletcher robbed the Grand Avenue Kowalski's Markets in St. Paul, armed with a gun. He was fatally shot after he fled through a rear entrance.
The boy Cosgriff came to know was kind-hearted but prone to making bad decisions. Hopkins police report that they had a number of calls involving Fletcher. Cosgriff said he never could figure out why such a good kid could make such poor choices—speculating that perhaps he committed the Kowalski’s robbery to help a friend.
Monday’s robbery wasn’t Fletcher’s first. He was previously convicted of robbing a bank in 2008, when he was 16—a crime he reportedly committed with former Hopkins High School basketball star Anthony DiLoreto.
But Fletcher stood out for other reasons, too. He was a fast runner and good athlete. There was no missing the talent.
“He’s got more going for him than 90 percent of the kids walking around these schools,” Cosgriff said.
He and others worked to steer Fletcher in the right direction. Cosgriff recalls a conversation in which another coach warned Fletcher that bad things would happen if he didn’t get his act together. After the 2008 robbery, supporters testified to his promise, according to the Pioneer Press.
“He had so many chances. I really gave him every break in the world, and he didn’t want to do what I wanted him to do,” Cosgriff said.
The Alice Smith teacher said part of him could see a tragedy like this coming. Especially in today’s environment—following on the heels of the Newtown, CT, school shooting, and the killing of a Cold Spring police officer—a single bad decision can have lasting consequences.
“You can’t do these sorts of things,” he said.
Fletcher left the Hopkins school system as a sophomore, right around the time of the bank robbery. Cosgriff hasn’t been as close to him in recent years, but he hasn’t forgotten the kid he once knew.
“(My relationship with him) was that of a surrogate father,” Cosgriff said. “They did what I asked. We celebrated Christmas. We went to sporting events.”
If you have a memory of Fletcher you’d like to share, please post it in the comments below or contact editor James Warden at 612-889-6452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.