Coming back after shutting down
By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published September 10, 2006
THE STORY SO FAR: Neither money nor the passage of time helped CeeCee Lyles' family overcome their grief after she died on 9/11.
GIBSONTON - The day his mother died, Jerome Smith, then 16, couldn't stop crying. But at her funeral in Fort Pierce, he didn't cry, and never cried again.
"Something in me shut down," he says.
Before his mother, CeeCee Lyles, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, he had been a quiet, studious teenager, making A's and B's in school, playing the cello and planning to go to college to become an Army officer.
He had lived with his mother and stepfather Ademil Castrillo for nine years, from age 5 to 14, then with his second stepfather, Lorne Lyles, for almost two years after that. The one constant in his life, he says, was his mother.
"When she died, I went to hell and haven't come back," he says.
After his mother died on United Flight 93, Jerome went back to live with Ademil Castrillo and his new wife, Danielle. His younger brother Jevon lived with them, too.
"I had been a father to Jerome for most of his life, and CeeCee had made it clear to me if anything happened to her, she wanted me to have the boys," said Castrillo, an investment banker for Wachovia in Port St. Lucie.
It wasn't that Lorne wasn't a good father, Castrillo says. It was just that Castrillo was Jevon's birth father and had been a "dedicated" father to Jerome for so many years.
"CeeCee thought the boys would be more comfortable with me," he says.
But Jerome, says Castrillo, became increasingly isolated and nothing seemed to help.
"He went somewhere in his head and couldn't get out," says Danielle Castrillo.
Jerome explains it this way: "I kept looking for the feeling of family I had with my mom and I couldn't find it."
He went to live with his great-aunt, Carrie Ross, but after a few months, he left again.
His grandmother, Shirley Adderly, says she wonders if something she said to Jerome at CeeCee's funeral had something to do with his restlessness. She was afraid she was going to start sobbing and couldn't stop. So, she took Jerome's hand, squeezed it and whispered: "Let's don't cry. Let's be strong and not cry."
"I blame myself for saying that," she says. "He needed to cry and scream. He needed to get some of that deep grief out."
Now, says Adderly, she wishes Jerome would come to her house and do just that.
"It's never too late," she says.
Jerome moved to Tampa to be with Lorne in 2004. But that didn't work either.
"I love Lorne, but he was too strict for me," says Jerome.
When he turned 18, Jerome got hundreds of thousands of dollars from United, the Victim's Compensation Fund and various charities. He also got a generous scholarship to college.
He tried college for a few months, then quit and bought a large, two-story house a few blocks from Lorne. He lives there alone.
"I'm alone when people are around anyway, so it doesn't matter," he says. He also bought three new black cars - a Mercedes, a Nissan 300Z and a Dodge Magnum, which he souped-up with Lamborghini doors, expensive hubcaps and three DVD players.
Last year, he quit answering his phone and shut down the message machine.
"I love my family, but I need space and time," says Jerome.
In the past six months, Jerome has lost more than 30 pounds. He has also lost his cars and most of his furniture, selling off his possessions to pay debts he won't talk about, as well as taxes on his house. Recently, he lost his driver's license for not paying fines for speeding tickets.
He remembers how happy he was when he got his license on his 16th birthday, three days before his mother was killed five years ago. On that day, CeeCee and Lorne took the boys out for dinner and then came back home for cake.
"It was the last time I could really feel love," says Jerome.
His great-aunt says she understands. A part of her also became numb when CeeCee died. But she wants Jerome to know that his family is there for him when he's ready.
His aunt and grandmother, his two stepfathers, his little brother - they are waiting for him to show some sign, any sign - of wanting them back in his life. They talk about intervention, of going to get him. They talk about being patient. They worry that they worry too much. They pray for him every night.
"I've made a mess of things and I'm too ashamed to make things right," says Jerome.
"He needs to quit the shame and get his butt back with his family," says his grandmother.
"He's a strong, beautiful young man and we're willing to wait for him."
COMING TOMORROW: Signs the family is pulling together again.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.