By Carolyn Berardino
25-year-old Kyle Byrtus’s body was found in a Lehigh Acres field on the outskirts of Fort Myers, Florida in Lee County on August 15, 2013. He had been shot, and his murder remains unsolved. I had the pleasure of speaking with his mom, Lynne Kreger, on the phone to hear Kyle’s story and to find out where the case stands today.
Lynne has been fighting for justice for her son for nearly seven years now. She is honest and direct about Kyle’s lifestyle and the problems he encountered in the years leading up to his murder. It is her strong belief that there are people in the Pine Manor community in south Fort Myers that know what happened to her son. For this case to be solved, those people need to come forward, so that she can finally find justice for her son.
Kyle was an addict. During college, he began taking Oxycodone, and his addiction later progressed to heroin. Lynne believes he was also a dealer, and when he sold drugs to others, he would keep a portion for himself as payment. He may have stolen items like speakers and small electronics to sell at pawn shops. She even noticed jewelry missing from her own home after Kyle visited and believes he sold her pieces for money for drugs.
But beneath his addiction was a good son, friend, student, and athlete. Kyle was an honor student and the co-captain of his high school cross-country team that competed at State. Lynne describes Kyle as “fun-loving. He always made us laugh. That or we wanted to pound him one, but most of the time he made us laugh. He didn’t just saunter into a room. He bounced in. I can hear him sitting back in his bedroom now, watching something on his computer, and just burst out laughing. He was so funny. And music. You could hear him coming down the road a mile away. He loved, loved, loved his music.”
Kyle graduated high school in 2006 and earned several college scholarships and an offer to run cross country at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Within his first year there, Lynne noticed Kyle becoming withdrawn. He didn’t visit home often, and when she looks back, she can see the signs of trouble beginning. She remembers Kyle calling and telling her, “You know, Mom, they don’t teach you what college is like. They don’t prepare us.”
Although nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening, Lynne could tell her son was struggling, and looking back, she wonders if he was dealing with depression. He broke up with his girlfriend, and she’s not sure if he ever got over it.
Kyle was put on probation at school due to poor grades, and he lost his scholarship by the end of his first year. He quit cross-country, and shortly after, he dropped out of college.
In 2008, he moved home, but things were rocky. He didn’t want to follow the household rules and expectations set for him. He started to disappear for a couple of days at a time. Lynne wasn’t aware of drug use at that time, but she knew something was wrong.
Kyle decided to move back to Boca Raton, and he got a job at a restaurant. For the next three or four years, things seemed to go well for Kyle. He held a steady job and lived in a nice condo with a couple of roommates. He would visit his family, but he’d never stay for more than a couple of days.
In January 2012, Kyle’s best friend Spencer, who had gone to high school with Kyle and also moved to Boca Raton, told his mother to get in touch with Lynne. He said, “You need to find his family and tell them Kyle’s in trouble. He needs help.”
At first, Lynne was in denial. But she quickly realized it was true. Looking back, Lynne could see that his drug use explained some of his behavior and decisions. The reason Kyle only visited for a short time was that he couldn’t stay longer without going into drug withdrawal.
Lynne had her father and brother-in-law drive to Boca Raton to pick up Kyle and bring him home. Kyle refused to go to rehab, but he agreed to live with his grandparents, who could keep an eye on him while Lynne was at work.
Kyle got jobs at a restaurant and lawn care service. He started to want more freedom, and he’d take a bus to friends’ houses or go to movies with a girlfriend.
Since he was working, Lynne eventually wanted Kyle to pay her parents rent. He refused. Instead, he left and went to stay with friends. After bouncing around, Lynne learned that Kyle was homeless, living behind a gas station, near the restaurant where he worked.
But in May 2013, Kyle was fired from his job. That’s when he moved to Pine Manor, where at first, he lived in a tent in the middle of a big field, a utility right of way.
In June, Kyle was arrested for petty theft in a Walmart. Kyle called Lynne from jail and asked her to bail him out. She told him she would, but only if he agreed to go to rehab. He yelled at her, “I’m your only son! How can you do this to me? You don’t love me. I never want to talk to you again!” and hung up the phone.
“Those are the last words I ever heard from him,” Lynne said. “Of course I look back and go, what if. What if I did bail him out? Would I have been able to help him some other way? Was tough love really the way to have gone? You know I go through so much in my head. I know there’s nothing I can do now.”
While in jail, Kyle told his uncle he was worried about his belongings getting stolen from his tent, so Lynne’s brother-in-law went to check on it. It had been raining, and everything was wet. Kyle had a framed photo of him and his great-grandmother. She and Kyle had been best friends, and she had passed away at 103 years old in December 2011. He also had a bible and a few other mementos. “That’s all he had,” Lynne said.
In July, Lynne’s brother-in-law would periodically drive through Pine Manor looking for Kyle. He came across him one day and Kyle said, “Tell Mom I said hi, and I do love her.”
In August 2013, Lynne drove 12 hours to Mississippi with her husband to visit his son and family. Shortly after they arrived, they were notified of Kyle’s death. Lynne and Kyle’s stepfather left immediately and drove back home.
Many questions about Kyle’s death remain. “To this day, they can’t tell me if he was killed there in the field, or if he was killed elsewhere,” Lynn said. “There were torrential downpours at that time, so it’s possible the rain washed evidence away… I want to know more, and they don’t tell me. I don’t know much more today than I did that first day.”
Lynne believes that Kyle was shot during a drug deal gone bad. She knows he owed money to many people. She said, “The one detective did mention that he learned more about the heroin trade in Fort Myers investigating Kyle’s death than he ever wanted to know.”
Police have Kyle’s phone and his backpack. But Lynne wonders what happened to his other belongings, and where are his clothes? Lynne learned that Kyle had been living in a duplex with several other people at the time of his death. When police arrived at the duplex during their investigation, it was empty. Lynne said it had been wiped completely clean.
Lynne has worked hard to find her son’s killer. She goes online to research local drug dealers who knew Kyle. She’s in frequent touch with cold case detectives, sending them any information that might be helpful. She created a Facebook page, “Friends of Kyle Byrtus,” where she shares information and asks for tips. She even read “Chase Darkness With Me,” by Billy Jensen, where she got the idea to sponsor targeted Facebook posts asking anyone with information to come forward.
“I just have to continue to do what I can until I find justice,” she said. “I talk to [Kyle.] I tell him to send me signs of who did it.”
Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers has worked with Lynne to try to find answers. Its coordinator Trish Routte emailed on the case, “Unfortunately, leads have dried up in Kyle’s case…I firmly believe that the answers are out there – it’s just a matter of getting in front of the right person at the right moment. We stand with Lynne and will continue fighting for justice until the day Kyle’s killer is arrested.”
If you have any information on this case, please contact SWFL Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477) or submit a tip online. You can remain anonymous, and there is a $3,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.