On July 7, 2016, two days before his death, Tyler Gebhard opened up his Facebook account and typed a message to Julie Boyd.
"Happy birthday!!!" he wrote.
"Thanks Tyler. Come see us!" she replied six minutes later.
The Boyd family had not seen much of Tyler since he went away to college. Co-founders of a small nondenominational Christian church, the Boyds had run into Tyler about a month before at a mall food court and had shared a pleasant meal with him, by their account. They had known him for four or five years. He played varsity football at Affton High School with Julie's youngest son, Jonah; her older son, Josh, was an assistant coach. Tyler had often joined other athletes and classmates on Wednesday nights for a church youth group led by Julie's husband, Rich, at the family's house in the tiny south St. Louis County suburb of Lakeshire.
The homey setting and multiple ties through sports, school and church made for a close-knit bunch. Tyler had joined them for church services some weekends and had even once played Joseph in a Christmas pageant.
On Facebook, Tyler promised Julie Boyd he would see them on July 9 for church.
"It's at 6 right?" he wrote.
"That is correct and great!" she replied.
One day later, on July 8, he showed up at their door. It did not go well.
Rich Boyd was out of town for work, but Julie Boyd was home with her married daughter, Jordan Lasley, and young grandchildren. They later told police that Tyler was polite, taking off his shoes as he entered, but he seemed different than he had the month before at the food court.
"It's getting real bad," he reportedly told them as he sat on the couch.
They thought at first he was talking about the weather, but his mind was on a string of recent police shootings. The Boyds are white. Tyler is biracial — his father was black and his mother white — and the past three days had been filled with explosive news stories about law enforcement officers killing and being killed, with race the underlying context in much of the coverage.
A black man named Alton Sterling had been shot dead on July 5 while he was pinned to the ground by police in Louisiana. A black man named Philando Castile had been shot dead on July 6 by police during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Videos from the shootings spread quickly on social media, sparking protests across the country. A black military veteran named Micah Johnson gunned down five police officers on July 7 during a march in Dallas, reportedly retaliating for the deaths of black men killed by cops.
Tyler had begun to worry. "Things are about to get bad," he had told his stepfather early on the morning of July 8.
That afternoon in Lakeshire, he told Julie Boyd and Jordan Lasley that it was getting dangerous with cops killing people. He was afraid for his safety.
Jordan Lasley was worried about the shootings, too, but for different reasons. She later told detectives that she reminded Tyler that her husband, Josh Lasley, was a police officer and told him she did not want to talk about the recent news. She claimed she tried to steer the conversation in another direction, but it was no use.
"He kept coming back to the police," she said.
It was unsettling — so much so that Julie Boyd surreptitiously asked her oldest son, also named Josh, to drop by the house, they said. Tyler was still talking about the police when Josh Boyd and his wife arrived. They said they also tried and failed to change the subject. Jordan Lasley was becoming more and more upset.
"Why are you here?" she asked. "Why did you come to visit? Why are you bringing this up?"
He just came by to say hello, he told them. Apparently realizing he had upset everyone, he said he would leave. It was an awkward exit, so Josh Boyd followed up with him later on Facebook.
"Tyler, I that think both sides need to be able to have discussions with each other about getting upset," he wrote. "I hope you realize I wasn't trying to be mean but my sister is extremely upset and worried with all the police that have been killed in the last two days. Obviously, there are some bad cops, but I think the majority of cops are good guys."
Tyler responded shortly after.
"You're right but I don't feel bad for Josh [Lasley] he knew what he was getting into when he took his oath," he wrote. "He's supposed to be out there making a difference. But he needs to be careful."
Josh Boyd replied that he thought everyone needed to be careful. His brother-in-law would be careful, because he's a smart guy, he added.
"I know he is," Tyler replied. "He just needs to keep his head down."
Less than 24 hours later, Tyler was dead. Josh Lasley shot him three times in the Boyds' kitchen.
- GEBHARD FAMILY
- Larry Gebhard was close to his grandson,Tyler Gebhard, even sharing an apartment while Tyler was in high school.
Josh Lasley and Tyler Gebhard were not strangers. That's something that was often lost in the aftermath of the shooting. Early reports claimed the biracial twenty-year-old and white cop had argued bitterly online about Black Lives Matter, sparking a deadly confrontation. No evidence has emerged showing the two ever corresponded about anything online, but it was too late to slow the false narrative. People on the right and left seized on the idea of simmering racial tensions spilling from Facebook into the real world. Tyler and Lasley quickly became cliches of a divided America that was surely hurtling toward violence and destruction.
The official account from law enforcement did little to clear up the confusion.
"The suspect was known to the officer and the four additional family members present at the residence" is the way police described the relationship in a news release after the shooting. Behind those bland seventeen words were years of high school football practices, church services, birthday parties and Wednesday night youth groups convened with sodas and snacks in the Boyds' home. When Lasley was hired by the St. Louis County Police Department in 2013, Tyler joined the family for a celebration dinner at Red Robin.
"He trusted those people," his grandmother, Marlene Gebhard, says.
She goes over this point in her mind as she tries to sort out what happened. Marlene is the clear matriarch of the Gebhard family. The retired president of Shop 'n Save grocery stores, she has assumed the role of spokeswoman for her grandson's heartbroken friends and relatives. It is Marlene who most often answers reporters' questions, who corresponds with the family's lawyers at ArchCity Defenders and who sat down in February with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and a spokesman for what she says was an "extremely disappointing" meeting — a meeting in which she learned that Lasley would face no charges for her grandson's death.
"It's the same story they've told from the beginning with a few other details thrown in," she told the Riverfront Times a few hours after the sit-down.
She and her husband, Larry Gebhard, lived next to a golf course in O'Fallon, Missouri, and raised their grandson for large swaths of his life. Tyler and Larry were especially close. His grandfather taught Tyler to play golf and went to all his football and baseball games. When Tyler wanted to transfer to Affton after a year at Christian Brothers College High School, Larry rented an apartment in south county and moved with his grandson so they would live in the right school district.
"Wherever there was Tyler, there was Larry," Marlene says.
They were proud of their grandson. He was a handsome, gifted athlete with a soft spot for people in need. She recalls how the coins from his piggy bank landed in the hands of a friend whose family was in danger of being evicted. Once, she questioned him in college about his dwindling checking account only to learn he had been renting a hotel room for a homeless man.
"Tyler was loving and kind and compassionate," she says.
Ask his high school friends about him, and they're likely to mention something dorky — the fedora he tried to pull off all through high school, video game marathons, his quest to win over anyone who was not a full-on enthusiast of Little Caesar's pizza. A natural athlete who had speed, size and power, he was also a six-foot-one, 220-pound cello player who excelled at math and talked of becoming an architect.
"He could have done anything and been great at it," childhood friend Laura Deen says.
Marcus Burse probably knew him better than anyone. They met during their sophomore year at Affton and quickly became friends. Two of the school's best athletes, they were also good students — Tyler in math, Burse in biology. On free days, they would hop in Tyler's black Chevrolet Cruze and drive, looking for new places.
"Me and Tyler, we just like to explore," he says. "We just didn't like to be in the house."
Burse accepted a scholarship to play football at Truman State University. Tyler enrolled at Southeast Missouri State University and made the football team's spring roster as a walk-on. At first they were too busy to talk much, but then Burse hurt his leg and had to have surgery. While he recovered, he and Tyler would pick a show — Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, Dexter – and binge-watch while they talked on the phone. Burse did not have a car, so Tyler would drive over to the Kirksville campus and bring him home for school breaks. The winter of Burse's surgery, when he could not move his leg, Tyler physically lifted him and put him in the car.
Burse was leaving a drive-in theater with his girlfriend on July 9 when he started getting calls from Marlene. He missed a couple of them, and then saw a text from a friend, saying something had happened to Tyler. Burse called Marlene, and she was crying.
"I pulled over at a gas station," he says. "I couldn't drive."
- VIA FACEBOOK
- Tyler Gebhard had made the football team and joined a fraternity at Southeast Missouri State University before his problems began.
For all his generosity and good spirits, Tyler soon ran into some serious problems in college.
In the spring of 2015, life should have been good. Tyler had joined a fraternity, and even though they hadn't offered him a scholarship, Southeast Missouri's football coaches were impressed enough by his size and speed to offer him a spot as a backup fullback.
But on April 17, campus police responded to reports of a man swinging a golf club at cars. Outside the football team's training facility, two squad cars pulled into the parking lot where a young man in a black shirt, blue shorts and tall socks was jumping up and down.
"I saw him approach another squad car and then run backwards jumping up and down," one of the officers later wrote. "Due to my past training and experience it was clear the subject was under the influence of some kind of drug."
A trainer for the football team had called campus police after Tyler started acting strangely in the training room that morning. He told the trainer that he had smoked marijuana and insisted she turn him in to the NCAA, according to her written statement. He was not making sense; he asked her who she was and if she was perfect, the trainer wrote. She could not get him to calm down.
An assistant coach soon joined her, and they followed Tyler outside, where he ranted about Jesus Christ and NBA star Steph Curry, they told police. They watched as he ripped the gas tank lid off his Chevy and threw it, along with his keys, shoes and cellphone.
One of the first officers on the scene hopped out of his car with an extendable baton. As soon as the cop started walking toward him, Tyler laid down on the pavement and put his arms behind his back. The officer cuffed him, figuring he was witnessing the effects of a bad acid trip.
"He was having severe mood swings where he would be happy and would yell for officers to shoot him," the officer wrote in his report.
Police shackled his legs when, they say, he began to kick. They called an ambulance. "Am I Jesus Christ?" Tyler asked.
The Riverfront Times obtained copies of the police reports through an open records request. Asked about the incident, his grandmother says it was Tyler's first manic episode, characterized by what she would later recognize as "religious euphoria." He was briefly hospitalized and diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, not a bad reaction to drugs. He returned to school, but stopped taking his medication not long after, telling his grandmother that a counselor didn't think he was bipolar.
A month later, football coaches recognized another episode coming on and contacted authorities. Tyler willingly accompanied the dean of students and a police officer to a counselor's office, and his grandfather drove down to pick him up. This time, Tyler checked into Mercy Hospital in St. Louis for an extended stay.
Marlene insists these are the only two manic episodes she and her husband ever witnessed. Her grandson may have acted erratically during them, but he was never actually violent, she says, nor was he ever charged with a crime.
However, Tyler's stepfather, Christopher Johnson, told police in a taped interview that the problems began much earlier, when Tyler was a teen, and could be frightening.
Johnson claims a sixteen-year-old Tyler attacked his mother with a pipe, after which he went to live with his grandparents. "He's had a lot of mental issues," the stepfather told police in July.
Marlene disputes Johnson's account of the incident but declines to go into detail.
"It is not the way it happened — I can say that," she says. "That was a family issue, and Tyler went to live with us afterward, and we never had an issue."
Similarly, she insists that other reported incidents have been misconstrued. A former college roommate who told campus police in April that Tyler warned him not to "get caught alone in the dark" was really a thief, she says; her grandson had caught the guy stealing from him. And she believes that the confusing mixture of angry and conciliatory Facebook messages Tyler posted on July 8 and 9 shows only the disjointed way his mind was processing his fear and concern after the recent police shootings.
Johnson, however, says his stepson was worked up in the days before his death. He told police that Tyler suddenly showed up at their door on July 7 and announced he was moving in — four years after his mother kicked him out over the pipe incident. Tyler instructed his younger sisters to bring his clothes in from his car, and then left as soon as they finished. The family did not see him again until he returned at 5:30 a.m. the next day. It was Friday, July 8, the same day he'd later visit the Boyds.
Johnson says he was getting ready for work when his stepson walked through the door, making bizarre statements.
"Oh, all kinds of odd stuff," Johnson later told St. Louis County police. "He said, 'I've been out,' and he said, 'I've outrun the cops in my car' and all this, and 'I've been doing this, and things are about to get bad.'"
Johnson had long ago adopted a system of appeasement to handle these types of situations. ("They say if it's raining meatballs, you've gotta go get a plate," he explained to police.) They chatted a little more, and Johnson headed off to work.
Tyler was crashed out on the couch when his stepfather returned later that day. Tyler woke up ten minutes later and left. He did not come back that night or Saturday morning.
Johnson says they grew worried after speaking to one of Tyler's younger sisters. She told them about a disturbing conversation on Friday. Tyler told her he was saying goodbye because he claimed to be "headed to Dallas to start killing cops," the sister says, according to Johnson. He reportedly told her he was never coming back.
Marlene says she has not spoken to her granddaughter about that conversation and cannot say what happened, but it seems likely Tyler was at the beginning of another manic episode. One of her daughters even called a friend at a small police department in north county and asked him to spread the word: If they encountered Tyler acting strangely, please react without violence, she said.
The family was trying to head off a tragedy, but ultimately it would not be enough.
"He was a great kid who had the misfortune of having a chemical imbalance of the brain known as bipolar disorder," Marlene says of her grandson. "In this world we live in, mental illness is a stigma. It's not treated like any other thing. If I went and told you my grandson had cancer, I'd have all kinds of support."
- DOYLE MURPHY
- Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders. The nonprofit law firm is representing Marlene Gebhard in her quest for truth.
In the aftermath of the July 9 shooting, the Boyd and Gebhard families studied the Facebook exchange between Tyler and Josh Boyd from two days prior and drew very different conclusions about what it meant.
Tyler's family would later interpret his "keep his head down" advice as well-wishing, the same as telling someone to drive safely.
A cousin, Leslie Hanlon, had spoken to Tyler twice on July 8 — before and after the weekend's first visit to the Lakeshire house. She had noticed a string of his Facebook posts about the recent shootings. Some were angry, others called for unity. They have at least ten active and former police officers in their family, and the posts included a picture of a candle for fallen officers.
"He was very empathetic toward both sides of the situation," she says.
Hanlon says she just wanted to tell him his family cared about him.
"The reason I reached out to him is because I know he has a very tender heart and is very caring, just a passionate person," she says. "I could just tell by what he was posting on social media that he seemed upset, and I just wanted to call him and tell him, 'Hey, we love you. We support you.'"
But where the Gebhard family saw a young man grappling with fear and compassion, the Boyds saw menace. The idea that Josh Lasley should be careful and "needs to keep his head down" was cited by family members as a possible threat when they later spoke to police.
There were other warning signs, too, they claimed. Two random people reportedly contacted them on their church Facebook page the next morning, posting screenshots attributed to Tyler with statements about killing white people and police.
In fact, the Boyds summoned Lakeshire and St. Louis County police to their house at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 9. Officers took a report about possible threats. Based on what appeared to be Tyler's postings online, the cops also contacted Webster Groves police. They deployed an officer to the church the Boyds were renting for services that evening, just in case Tyler showed up.
That evening, shortly before 5:30 p.m., he did show up. But he didn't come to church. He returned to their home.
Tyler had spent the day with a friend he knew from Affton and another young man. The friend, 21-year-old Neiko Warren, was wanted for a burglary. He later told police they had pawned some of Tyler's stuff and used the money to buy marijuana they planned to sell. Warren claimed Tyler had seemed paranoid lately, shouting at people at the mall and saying he was a god.
That afternoon, Tyler told Warren he planned to go to church with the Boyd family, so they drove over to Lakeshire. Warren dropped him off and then drove away in Tyler's car, planning to pick him up in a couple of hours, he said.
But this time, something went terribly wrong.
As with Tyler's visit the day before, Julie Boyd, her daughter Jordan and Jordan's two young children were home — only Jordan's husband, Josh Lasley, was there too.
- IMAGE VIA DESLOGE POLICE DEPARTMENT
- Josh Lasley was a police officer in Desloge before joining the St. Louis County Police Department.
Tyler began ringing the doorbell. Josh Lasley says he was using the basement bathroom after finishing up work at his side job when his wife, Jordan, called out to him from the basement stairs.
"She was pretty hysterical, saying, 'He's here! He's here! He's trying to bust in through the front door,'" he said in a recorded interview with law enforcement. "I asked her who, she said, 'Tyler, Tyler Gebhard.'"
Lasley said he bolted up the stairs while his wife locked herself in a front bedroom with their two kids and her mother. Jordan dialed 911.
Tyler had left the front of the house by the time the off-duty cop reached the door, Lasley said. But when he looked out the back of the house, he could see the younger man's shadow.
Lasley slipped out the front, ran to his truck and grabbed a gun — his personal .40-caliber Glock pistol — and then ducked back inside. He still couldn't see Tyler, so he went to check on the rest of the family hiding out in the bedroom, he said.
"As I was telling them to call 911, I heard a loud bang coming through the window," he said.
Lasley claimed he returned to the kitchen to find a hunk of concrete lying in a pile of glass. Tyler, having apparently thrown the heavy block through the floor-length window, was climbing into the house, he said.
At this point, the interaction reached a neighbor's ears. She later told police they could hear Lasley shouting, "Get the fuck down! Get the fuck on the ground!"
A Lakeshire police officer, responding at 5:25 p.m. to the 911 call for a burglary, arrived at about the same time. He edged around to the back of the house, where he saw broken glass on the deck next to the window. Seconds later, he heard three gunshots from inside the house.
But no one knew who'd been shot. Inside the bedroom, Jordan Lasley and Julie Boyd panicked. They pushed out a window screen and began crawling outside.
"I heard a gunshot, and I didn't know who shot the gun," Julie Boyd would later tell a detective. "I didn't know who was going to be coming through the door next." When St. Louis County police officers arrived, they found the 54-year-old grandmother dangling half out of the bedroom window in a desperate attempt to flee with her daughter and grandkids.
In the meantime, the Lakeshire cop, still in the rear of the house, crept toward the broken back window. "Police! Come out," he cried.
The man who peered out was Lasley — and the officer recognized him as a county cop.
The rear entrance was littered with broken glass, so they agreed to meet at the front door. There, they were joined by the first St. Louis County police officers on scene. Lasley led his fellow officers through a hallway into the kitchen, according to the police report. His gun was on the kitchen table. Sprawled out on the hardwood floor next to a center island was Tyler.
The officers began calling dispatch for an ambulance. Two of them slid the twenty-year-old's arms out from under his body and cuffed his wrists behind his back while the Lakeshire cop radioed for an ambulance. Tyler was bleeding out.
One officer led Lasley outside, while the others pressed towels against Tyler's chest. They were having a hard time finding the bullet holes. Too much blood was soaking through his white Under Armour shirt. Tyler was gasping when they decided to uncuff him, roll him onto his back and begin CPR.
An Affton Fire Protection District ambulance arrived at 5:36 p.m. Tyler did not have a pulse when they loaded him onto a stretcher at 5:47 p.m. and took off for St. Anthony's Medical Center, according to the medical records. He had been hit three times: twice in the chest and a graze wound to the neck.
The ambulance arrived at the hospital at 5:55 p.m., and it was already too late. Three minutes later, a doctor confirmed Tyler was dead.
- COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE
- Lasley's gun, photographed as evidence on the family's kitchen table after the shooting.
In the hours after Tyler Gebhard's death, St. Louis County detectives began their interviews. Josh Lasley agreed to speak in the presence of his attorney, as did his wife and in-laws.
Shortly after midnight, on the second floor of the county police headquarters in Clayton, he described rushing up the basement stairs and checking on his wife, kids and mother-in-law. He told the detective about grabbing his gun from his truck, running back inside and hearing the crash of a window shattering.
He described standing the kitchen of his wife's parents' house and pointing his gun at a family friend.
"I kept telling him just to get out, get out," Lasley says in the recorded interview. "He kept saying, 'You know who I am. I'm Tyler. You're not going to shoot me. I'm Jesus. Give me the gun.'"
- COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE
- Tyler Gebhard threw a heavy concrete block through the Boyd's window, police say.
Lasley claimed he fired only after Tyler lunged for the pistol, the bullet grazing his neck. Then Lasley pulled the trigger twice more. It did not fire, so he re-racked it. He claimed Tyler followed him as he backed around a kitchen table.
"You shot me, bro," Tyler said, according to Lasley. "Why did you do that? I'm Tyler."
Lasley shouted at him to get down. It was loud enough for their neighbor to hear, but Lasley claimed that Tyler kept coming.
"You can't kill me; I'm Jesus," he said, according to Lasley.
Tyler made one more lunge, Lasley claimed, and this time the gun did not malfunction.
Inside the house, police found three shell casings and a bullet that apparently ricocheted off the wall after grazing Tyler's neck. They circled the rooms, photographing anything that seemed relevant: a broken picture frame, Lasley's gun, Tyler's blood. A 100-pound hunk of concrete was lying in a pile of glass beneath a highchair next to the shattered window.
Dozens of officers filled the tiny neighborhood, and the St. Louis County police chief conducted an on-scene news conference. His comments were reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"I don't think the officer had a choice," he told reporters. "I honestly don't."
- DOYLE MURPHY
- Marlene Gebhard speaks about Tyler at a press conference.
Chief Jon Belmar's quote from that first night nags at Marlene Gebhard to this day. How could the chief be so certain so soon when she still has so many questions more than eight months later, she wonders. Even after prosecutors released their report in February, and police released their records three weeks later, Marlene says she still does not have answers.
She wonders how her broad-shouldered grandson could fit through that waist-high hole in the Boyds' window without cutting himself or knocking over the highchair sitting right there. She wonders why Josh Lasley, a physically strong and professionally trained law enforcement officer, immediately pulled a gun when her grandson had none. She wonders why, if the Boyds were so worried about Tyler, they did not contact her, a woman they had known for years.
- ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE/TWITTER
- Police tweeted a picture of the Boyds' broken window after the shooting.
"Why in the hell didn't they call me?" she asks one afternoon. "They called everyone else."
She has so many questions. On the day of her meeting with prosecutors, she says she carried four pages of things she wanted to ask. After listening to McCulloch say the words "justifiable homicide" in the first five minutes, she put them away.
Marlene says the family interviewed some of the region's top attorneys after her grandson's death and ultimately hired ArchCity Defenders because of the nonprofit firm's work on social justice issues, including police abuse. She now spends hours every day looking at cases of police shooting unarmed black men across the country. She says she has lost faith in our justice system.
Maybe she'll start a foundation in her grandson's name or write a book to help other families, she says. She would like legislation that would require police to update families as cases progress. She has lost count of the times a reporter asked about some piece of information she had yet to see. It is an excruciating process, she says, like having her "skin peeled off."
Finally, after months of asking, Marlene received the police and prosecutors' reports and read through them. She has listened to the audio interviews recorded by detectives. The attorneys at ArchCity will continue to go through them piece by piece. But she knows the shooting will never make sense to her. She cannot picture her grandson "lunging" at anyone.
She does believe that Tyler was afraid for his safety in those last days. If he was also in a state of religious euphoria, she says, it is even possible he made the comments about Jesus. But it seems to Marlene that her grandson had agreed to go to church with a family he had known for years, and that's what he was doing on July 9.
Reminded of the comments he supposedly made to his sister about driving to Dallas and shooting police officers, she says little can be discerned from his nonsensical ramblings in the final hours of his life, other than that he was upset as a result of all the news of police shootings.
"All I can say is this: He put some stupid stuff on Facebook, too, that day," she says. "If he said those things, he didn't go to Dallas. He didn't do anything bizarre like that."
She looked at his posts about Dallas, his posts supporting the pro-police Blue Lives Matter and a picture he posted of a black baby and white baby hugging.
"He was all over the place," she says. "All over the place, but they don't tell you that. They just tell you the thing that makes the case seem justified."
The Boyd family's attorney, Joseph Goff, responded to a handful of emails from the Riverfront Times, but neither he nor the family ultimately agreed to an interview. In February, he wrote, "... keep in mind that a 3 month old baby, a 2 year old baby and a mother and grandmother were crawling out of a bedroom window when a massive chunk of concrete shattered the back door of their home."
The head pastor of the Boyds' church, Owen Taylor, says the family has struggled with the shooting. The attorney advised him (as well as the Boyds) not to speak to reporters, Taylor says, but he is worried people will think no one cared. Tyler was a good kid, and the Boyds are a good family, he says. It's a tragedy on all sides.
"Being friends with Rich," the pastor says, "I don't think there's a day that goes by that he doesn't think about Tyler."
Marlene and Larry Gebhard gave their dead grandson's car to his friend Marcus Burse after the funeral.
Burse and Tyler had spent hours upon hours driving around St. Louis in the Chevrolet. Now Burse drives it alone, delivering pizzas to help pay for college. He has transferred to Harris-Stowe State University, where he plans to play basketball next season.
He never had any money, moving nearly a dozen times as a kid before a teacher took in him and his brother and enrolled them at Affton, he says. The Gebhards became like an extended family. They always assumed the two friends would follow similar tracks: sports, college, jobs. After high school graduation, Marlene and Larry asked the boys to drive one of the family's cars down to the Gebhards' vacation property in Florida. The idea was to give them a vacation together before they headed off to different universities.
The trip was full of new experiences for Burse. He had never been to Florida. He had never seen the ocean. Tyler took him golfing.
"I'd never been golfing before, and now I like it," Burse says.
But it is the drive down there that he remembers most. Tyler drove the whole way, steering the sedan south on a diagonal path across the country. Burse could not keep his eyes open, dozing in the passenger's seat as his friend carried them along hour after hour. Tyler mostly just let him sleep, but whenever they neared something interesting, he would lean over to wake him.
Now that his friend is gone, Burse thinks back to the way Tyler would rouse him each time another state line came into view. Burse would wake to his friend gesturing to some new sight on the horizon — "just so I wouldn't miss it."