'Dear God, please protect my mom'

Published September 9, 2006

THE STORY SO FAR: CeeCee Lyles' family broke apart after her death on 9/11. Time did not heal, it only seemed to separate them further.

PORT ST. LUCIE - Jevon Castrillo, 11, keeps a shoe box covered with green marbleized contact paper in his closet.

It is filled with memories of his mother: A photo of her holding him when he was 6 months old. He is wearing a sailor suit. They are both smiling.

A small vial of the sandy soil from western Pennsylvania, which he collected at a memorial. The dirt is from where her plane, United 93, stabbed the earth.

A Mother's Day card he bought for her this past May: "I want you to reflect on all of the love that is felt for you," the card says.

And, a photo of her in her police uniform in Fort Pierce, where she had been a police officer before she became a flight attendant.

When his mother, CeeCee Lyles, died on Sept. 11, 2001, Jevon went to Port St. Lucie to live with his father, Ademil Castrillo and his stepmother Danielle. His brother Jerome, 16, went too, but left after a year, saying he needed "more space."

"I wish Jerome was still here," Jevon says. "I miss him so much."

Two years ago, Jerome showed up unexpectedly for Jevon's birthday party at a nearby park. Jerome took Jevon for a ride in his black Dodge Magnum with the tinted windows, Lamborghini doors and blaring TV monitors.

"It was heaven," Jevon says.

But since then, he hasn't heard from his brother, despite frequent calls to him.

"I keep hoping my brother will realize we need each other," Jevon says.

He keeps his room spotless, making the bed as soon as he gets up, folding his clothes neatly in the drawers and lining up his shoes in perfect order in his closet.

"Lorne taught me about neatness," he says, referring to his stepfather's influence when his mother was alive.

He is a straight-A student, excelling in math, with artistic talent, too. He plays the drums in his school band and keeps a collection of graphic designs he has drawn and painted on the walls of his room. One is a painting of a small open hand. Tears fall into it from clouds in a blue sky.

"She was always there for me," says the caption.

Another painting is of thick, block letters - words from his favorite gospel song: "Don't worry. The righteous won't be forsaken."

He reads the line aloud, then whispers: "I am trying to be righteous."

The way he has it figured out being righteous means he won't feel as alone as he did the first few years after his mother died.

Back then he says he felt forsaken when he'd get in bed at night. It was at bedtime that his mother had held him and kissed him, and he would lie in bed hoping she would show up and do it again.

"But she never did," he said.

A few years ago, after he told his father how sad he felt when he got in bed, his father started a family tradition in Jevon's room.

Every night, when Jevon gets in bed, his dad, stepmother and two little sisters come in his room and sit on the bed around him. The girls crawl on him and kiss him. His dad and his stepmother hug him, and they all lounge around and talk.

Every night, Jevon says the same thing: "Dear God, please protect my mom. Watch over my brother, Jerome, and give everyone in this house peace, so we can sleep."

It helps, he says: "When my family tucks me in at night, they bring my mom's warmth with them, and it stays with me most of the time."

What is most difficult for him, though, is that he fears his brother has "forsaken" him. He wonders if Jerome ever thinks about him. He wonders if his older brother will come back into his life.

In seven years, when Jevon gets his Victims' Compensation Fund money at 18, he hopes to buy a car and drive to Tampa to visit Jerome.

"My mom died and I can't get her back," he says. "But my brother is alive and maybe there is hope for us."

COMING TOMORROW: An older brother disappears.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at laughlin@sptimes.com.

The aftermath of 9/11

In a special five-day report, the Times explores the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001, for the nation and the lasting effects on the lives of Floridians.

THURSDAY: The first in a series of stories about a family's struggle to survive after CeeCee Lyles died in the crash of United Flight 93.

TODAY: Air travelers' early resistance to inconvenience and loss of personal liberty is giving way to acceptance.

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 9/11. Today they are in middle school and their innate youthful optimism is tested. SPECIAL REPORT ON TAMPABAY.COM: Faces of Tampa Bay men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MONDAY: "This is my job," a flight attendant says. "This is what I do. You've got to get on with it."