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A husband's passage through darkness

Published September 8, 2006

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Lorne Lyles, with sons Justin and Jordan, is recognized in 2002 in the Florida Legislature. His wife, CeeCee Lyles, was a flight attendant on United Flight 93 that crashed as a result of terrorism.
CeeCee Lyles with sons Jerome, left, and Jevon in an undated family photo.

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THURSDAY: Facing a world without CeeCee
By Meg Laughlin
For a Florida family, the events that shook the nation were very personal and would be felt long beyond one infamous day.
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FRIDAY: Facing a world without CeeCee:
Day Two

By Meg Laughlin
CeeCee Lyles was the glue that held her family together. When her plane crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, the family fell apart.
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Travelers now shrug off terror's price
By Michael Kruse
Early resistance to the inconveniences of security checks has given way to acceptance.
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SATURDAY: Before the attacks, American Muslims largely kept to themselves. Now, many feel the public expects them to answer for the actions of those who commit heinous acts.

SUNDAY: They were little children on Sept. 11. Today they are in middle school and their innate youthful optimism is tested.
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MONDAY: "This is my job," a flight attendant says. "This is what I do. You've got to get on with it."

GIBSONTON - Lorne Lyles had never known anything about depression before his wife was murdered. He'd been in the Army and then a cop. He thought of himself as someone who always protected people.

It really got to him, he says, when he couldn't protect CeeCee, the person he loved the most.

"I kept asking myself if there was some way I could have made a difference," he says.

A second marriage for both of them, they vowed to learn from past mistakes. They each trained for the work they had always wanted to do: He became a police officer, which she had urged him to do. She gave up police work and became a flight attendant, a dream that he had encouraged her to pursue.

They combined their families - his two boys, Justin, 10, and Jordan, 8, and hers, Jevon, 5, and Jerome, 15, - and moved to a Fort Myers townhouse, where the six of them did chores together, cooked together, went bike riding and roller skating together and on frequent weekend vacations, together.

"When we moved in with Lorne, we had jobs we had to do, but we also had a lot of fun when the work got done," says Jevon.

But when CeeCee was killed, the fun stopped.

Lorne, who was then 31, couldn't sleep at night, couldn't bear to put food in his mouth during the day. He couldn't remember anything and could hardly speak. He sent the four boys - his two and her two - to live with family. Jevon and Jerome went to live with Jevon's father, CeeCee's first husband. Lorne's two boys went to live with their mother. Lorne stayed in the townhouse, where he sat in the dark for months.

"The people in the Fort Myers Police Department and the people of Lee County showed me such love," he says, "But I couldn't respond."

He went on antidepressants and into psychotherapy. He went to the first few Flight 93 memorials and tributes for CeeCee. To Congress to accept an award on her behalf. To Fort Pierce, where they grew up and she had been a police officer, where a statue of her was unveiled. To Shanksville, Pa., where the plane crashed.

But his efforts to reach out always ended the same way: He returned home and sat in the dark, staring at a wall.

"People talk to you and try to help you. You talk back, hoping this will get the pain out. But you talk and talk and it's still there," he says.

Oddly, he says, what helped him the most in the beginning was Shadow, the large, black dog CeeCee had given him.

"This sounds crazy, but it's true. Shadow had the same loving look as CeeCee, and I felt close to her - felt understood - when I looked in the dog's eyes," he said.

In early 2004, he got more than $1-million from United, the Victim's Compensation Fund and several charities. He moved near Tampa, closer to his sister, buying a large, two-story home a few blocks from her. He bought a silver BMW and silver Nissan pickup, plus a new boat and personal watercraft.

"I was still lost," he says.

His two sons, Justin and Jordan, and Jerome, CeeCee's oldest son, lived with him in Tampa. He says he became preoccupied with "keeping them in line and keeping things shipshape."

If the boys missed a spot on the counter and he saw it after they had gone to sleep, he would wake them up and hand them a sponge.

"I thought maintaining order would help," he says.

But Jerome moved out and his own sons told him: "Dad, get a job and focus on something besides us and the house."

He took their advice.

In 2005, Lorne applied to be a police officer in Hillsborough County, the job he'd had to abandon in Fort Myers. In a January 2006 application, he wrote that he had "gone through emotional problems" because of his wife's death but had overcome them. He said he wanted to be a police officer again "to provide a sense of safety and security in someone's life."

Harkening back to his sorrow over CeeCee, he wrote: "If you can just help one person, you have done your job."

Lorne prefers not to say where he works in Hillsborough because he doesn't want his colleagues telling him "how sorry they are," reminding him of past sorrow.

"I'm trying to live in the present," he says.

In June, two months after he started back to work, his superiors received a letter from a woman whose sister had died suddenly in the night. Lorne had gone on the call.

"Officer Lyles treated our family with the utmost respect and compassion," she wrote. "He seemed to understand."

A few weeks ago, Lorne told his two boys, Justin and Jordan, that he is taking them to Pennsylvania, to the five-year anniversary memorial for the victims of Flight 93. He said they would be with CeeCee's family there and the other Flight 93 families. He wanted to reach out to them.

"Really, Dad, we're really going this year?" asked Justin, his voice brimming with hope.

"It's time," said his dad.

COMING TOMORROW: A little boy loses more than his mother.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at

[Last modified September 8, 2006, 02:19:13]

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