This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Lynne Kreger still remembers the way her little boy used to laugh. That memory now helps her cope. Her boy, Kyle Byrtus, was dead at age 25. His murder has never been solved.
When Kyle was young, he and his mother would often see families of ducks all around their neighborhood. One mother duck and her chicks made a home in the family’s backyard. When they eventually moved on from the backyard, they left one baby duck behind. Lynne recalled how 7-year-old Kyle held the small duckling in his hands, never wanting to let it go.
Gentle and determined, Kyle wanted to protect the duckling from any harm that might come it’s way. Lynne wishes she could have done the same for her son.
Growing up in Fort Myers, Florida, Kyle developed a love for sports and music. In high school, he would become a star on the cross-country team. His athletic talent earned him a scholarship to Florida Atlantic University, where he majored in business in the hopes of one day becoming an entrepreneur.
Kyle grew up with a smile on his face, according to his mother. Eventually, however, his smile started to slowly fade away.
“At the time, I thought it was pressure of being a teenager and a young adult and just not knowing what was going on. Then I found out it was due to drugs,” Lynne said.
Family members went to Boca Raton to bring Kyle home after they found out he was struggling with drugs. Lynne brought him to his grandparents’ house so he could be separated from his current path.
After a short stay with his grandparents, Kyle moved out and began staying with friends in Pine Manor, a small community in south Fort Myers with a crime rate that is 34% higher than the national average. Contact between Kyle and the rest of his family soon became sparse and the relationship between mother and son became tense due to the distance.
The last time Kyle spoke with his mother was in June 2013, when he was incarcerated. He was requesting bail money. After Kyle was released from jail, Lynne’s brother-in-law went to Pine Manor one day to see him. Kyle told his uncle to tell his mother he said hello and sends his love. That would be the last thing she heard from her son.
While on a trip to Mississippi in August 2013, Lynne received a phone call late one night. On the phone was a detective from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Her son was dead.
Authorities said Kyle’s body was found in a field in a desolate area of Lehigh Acres, a small, unincorporated community in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers region. There was heavy rain when Kyle’s body was deposited, and, due to decomposition, detectives said there was not enough evidence left to pinpoint who was responsible for the murder.
After a few years of no one coming forward with information, the case quickly went cold. Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers mailed nearly 5,000 postcards to residents of the Pine Manor community hoping someone would know what happened, or, in the very least, recognize Kyle’s face.
Kevin Byrtus, Kyle’s uncle, said he heard the news of his nephew’s homicide on his birthday. Ever since then, the occasion has become somber. “It and nothing else will ever be the same again,” Kevin said. “The most frustrating part is there is someone who knows what happened to my sister’s son. Yet no one is coming forward with the answers that could stop our lives of wondering just what happened to Kyle.”
Lynne struggles with the lack of answers. “If I just knew what happened, I would finally get the time to grieve like a mother should.”
The endless questioning of who took her only child weighs on Lynne every day. She also dreams of who her son would have grown to be if he wasn’t killed.
“If I could say anything to the person who killed my son? I just want to know what my son did to make you want to kill him. I don’t understand why someone has the need to kill somebody. I just want to know why,” she said.
Kyle Byrtus had an impact on so many lives, as evident by the crowd that attended the young cross-country star’s funeral. The family also has a GoFundMe account to help raise money for a reward should anyone come forward with information that could help solve this case.
Lynne wears a necklace with a picture of Kyle now. She does so to always carry a piece of him with her. She and other loved ones find new ways to honor and remember Kyle’s life every day.
She dreams of speaking to her son once more. “I would tell Kyle one last time that I love him, and I am sorry he had to go through this,” Lynne said. “I’d say I am sorry for not being there at the end, and I would tell him I hope he knows just how much he is loved.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Kyle Byrtus, please call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 239-477-1000. To remain anonymous and be eligible for an enhanced reward, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).
Research and Impact
Often times after a murder, families undergo permanent changes that are difficult for the family to accept. Because each member of a family battles with every stage of grief individually, offering emotional support can be challenging. The family must navigate through their own feelings regarding the homicide.
The challenges that families face are complex and unique to each individual. Since Project: Cold Case deals with unsolved homicides, many of our families are unable to go to trial and receive the answers that they deserve.
While a number of issues plague the process, the judicial process can often be impacted by the lack of funding and resources available to investigating agencies is often cited for reason. According to the National Institute of Justice, cold case grants could be the answer to combat some of the back log, offering hope for families awaiting resolution in decades old cases. The cold case grant program offers funding for review of violent cases in hopes of leading to trial, providing families with sought after answers.
Despite this, Project: Cold Case has a passionate goal of aiding families through their grief no matter what phase they are in and promoting cases in an effort to bring awareness to each.
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