Sunday, February 16, 2003

Mom: Son was 'gift from God'

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Mar'Sha Lyons looks at old school memorabilia belonging to her son, Bryan, as she puts together photo collages for his funeral.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Sixteen-year-old Bryan Lyons had just stopped at Jack's Carry Out & Drive Thru and was headed to his sick grandmother's house in Evanston Monday night when he was shot.

Officers, who got the 911 call, found Bryan lying on his grandmother's lawn.

He died just over five hours later at University Hospital, after undergoing surgery.

Police say it looks like a robbery.

Family members say they heard he was shot for his gray leather jacket - a jacket he bought from a friend for $20.

He is now known as Cincinnati's seventh homicide victim of 2003.

But to friends, Bryan was an "A" and "B" student who this year transferred to Cincinnati Public Schools' Virtual High School as a sophomore so he could work at a faster pace and graduate sooner. To teachers, he was quiet, intense and a hard worker. To girls at school, he was "pretty eyes" because of the light blue contact lenses he wore.

His mother, Mar'Sha Lyons, put it more plainly.

"He was a good child - a gift from God."

Mar'Sha, who lives on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, spent much of last week summing up her son's life to news media - trying to find a few words and stories that represented all the personality, humor, love, intelligence, silliness and sense of responsibility that made up her oldest child.

She reflected on his passion for drawing and snickered at the way he danced.

When looking over pictures for a photo collage to display at her son's funeral, Mar'Sha laughed at a picture of Bryan as a newborn - his mouth toothless and his face scrunched.

"He looks like an old man."


Not quite an old man. But in a lot of ways, he always seemed older.

Sure, he did the things popular with most 16-year-olds. He liked to listen to Eminem and Ashanti, wear Fubu street wear, talk to his friend Mikesa Rosser on his cell phone several times a day and hang out at Tower Place mall downtown.

At more than 6-feet tall and lean, he loved to play basketball and football. He also he liked to play videogames, like Nintendo's Zelda, with his 9-year-old brother, Patrick, and eat chili cheese burritos from Taco Bell.

And he had about 30 pairs of shoes.

But in a lot of other ways, he wasn't like other kids his age.

Bryan was always serious about school. He received attendance awards, met all the state standards on his eighth-grade standardized tests, and was involved in the Black History program at the Academy of World Languages in Evanston.

His teachers commended him by writing "Doing great" on his progress reports. He was recognized as one of Withrow High School's Super Stars for good academics last May and took advanced Japanese there.

"He applied himself," Mar'Sha said. "He really tried."

He tried to push other people, too.

His best friend Fred Berry, 16, said Bryan pushed him to attend summer school this past year. Bryan would set the alarm on his cell phone, call Fred to wake him up and even go to class at Taft High School with his friend.

And Bryan didn't even need summer school.

Fred switched to the Virtual High School in Queensgate last month because Bryan was there.

"He was a good friend," Fred said. "He made sure I stayed on track."

Fred said Bryan liked to hang out in the Vine Street public library and was always curious.

He told of how Bryan once sidled up to Fred's grandmother, who was crocheting, and asked her how it was done.

She demonstrated, and soon Bryan learned to crochet.

He made his own grandmother, Bertha Lyons, some potholders.

Perhaps because his father wasn't in the picture since Bryan was about 3 or 4, he was especially close with Mar'Sha and his grandparents.

When he was a kid, he would offer his birthday money to his mom.

When Bryan was about 10 years old, he gave her a Mother's Day card to make sure she knew she was loved - even though it wasn't very cool to be close to mom at that age.

"Dear Mom," he wrote, "I hope you know that I love (you) even though I don't talk to you. I just want to hang out with the guys more."

"He was always free-hearted," Mar'Sha said, laughing.

When his grandfather died in May 1999 and his grandmother was later struck by Alzheimer's disease, Bryan decided to move in with his grandmother at her Evanston home to help care for her.

"He took my daddy's death very hard," Mar'Sha said. "My mother's health was failing, and her memory was failing. He was the one who said, `I'll go live with her.'"

Bryan's aunt Linda Lyles and cousin, Frankie, said Bryan cooked Thanksgiving dinner for his grandmother and them this year - macaroni and cheese, roasted chicken, rolls and cake.

"He even had the table laid out with a cloth," Linda said.

People who knew him talk about his extreme sense of responsibility.

"He'd come in, sit down and get right to work," said his algebra teacher Dirk M. Horton.

"What was beautiful about him was that he could sustain that."

Bryan, a product of a school system where just three in five kids graduate, zipped through two English levels this school year.

He received dozens of college brochures and was eyeing Central State University.

He was planning to be an architect, his cousin Frankie said.

In the meantime, he wanted to get a job and recently applied at Kroger and Deveroes and planned to apply at Paramount's Kings Island this week.

He was also talking about getting his temporary driving license.

He was a kid with big plans as he walked back to his grandmother's house Monday after stopping at Jack's Carry Out & Drive Thru on Montgomery Road.

It was like any other day. He had to go care for his grandmother, so he carried a bag of food for later.

But then those shots were fired. Perhaps a scuffle ensued. And the quiet, funny, smart boy with the pretty eyes ran, bleeding from gunshot wounds, to his grandmother's house..

It was about that time - at 6:55 p.m. - that police got the 911 call from someone reporting that a person had been shot at 3352 Bevis Ave.

Officers saw Bryan lying in the front yard. Five hours later, he died.

Such incidents typically involve drug-dealing or payback revenge.

But in this case, Lt. Roger Wolf, who heads the homicide unit for the Cincinnati police, said the motive appears to be robbery.

Bryan's family said he had no record. Police said, from everything they hear, he was a good kid. They have no suspects in the murder.

And now Mar'Sha is left wondering what happened. Why her son?

Patrick, who had to be sent home from school at Project Succeed school in Bond Hill this week because he was so upset, gave a weak smile Friday as he looked over his brother's drawings of Bart Simpson, Garfield and comic book characters.

"He was a nice brother," the 9-year-old said, fidgeting with a stretchy blue hair band as his mother continue to paste together a collage of their memories on a white poster board.

"He was real smart. He helped me with my homework. We would play games. He would always win."

His mother said when Patrick was first told, he just rocked back and forth and cried and cried.

"I'm angry," Mar'Sha said, and starts talking to the unknown person who murdered her son. "Why didn't you just take his jacket? Why did you have to kill my child?"

Then later: "But I don't question God," she said. "With God's help, every day is going to be a little easier. I'm grateful I got to spend 16 years with Bryan."

Enquirer Reporter Jane Prendergast contributed.


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