My father died violently when I was seven. Story goes that he was found by the police in his Nova on the side of an Arizona highway with a bullet in his brain. He was 31. But my father was lost to me for years before that. My mother and father were divorced before my first birthday. It was not an amicable split. I was two-years–old the last time he visited me. Nobody in my house ever spoke of him. Not even when I asked. Only one photo of him existed as I was growing up. I hid it in my underwear drawer. I was scared my mother would throw it away if she ever saw it. Then one day in September of 1977 – I don’t remember what day – my father’s mother came by to tell me that my father was murdered and the graphic details. Because I knew nothing of his life, my father’s dramatic, tragic death defined him for me. It stinks for me and for him. I know that there was more to my father’s 31-year life than the bullet that ended it…but this is the only story I was ever told.
A block or two from my home on the evening of November 18th, the Suffolk County Detective Squad joined by the Homicide Squad embarked on an intense search. Seeing the police cars with their lights flashing closing off Brook Street, the News 12 van camped out and hearing bits and pieces of at times contradicting information frightened my daughter and me all night. We woke to the sound of police helicopters. It sounded as if they were going to land on our roof. Instead they used Commack Road Elementary School’s property as their landing pad. It wasn’t long until they found who they were looking for; Kyle Underhill, a member of my community who lived a few short blocks away who I never knew.
The circumstances surrounding Kyle’s tragic death are still being investigated. The only thing that the police have told us is that he was murdered. This mystery is haunting our small, quiet neighborhood. Things like this simply don’t happen here. It is unnerving.
But I hope that in this state of upset we don’t lose sight of the heart of this tragedy; Kyle Underhill. Please let’s not remember him as the Islip “teen found in marsh” as Newsday dubbed him. He had a name; Kyle Underhill. He had a life…albeit too brief. Let’s remember to define this fallen member of our community for the life he lived and not just by how he died. From what I learned about him in the days since his passing, he deserves a better legacy than that.
This is who I found out Kyle Underhill was:
- Quiet demeanor
- Metal head
- Really funny, really good kid
- Hobbies included drawing, working in the school’s tech room and games of Manhunt (that’s how Catalina spent many summer nights)
- Most caring person you could ever meet
- Cared for his friends, loved his family.
- He put his friends first
- Worked two jobs (Teller’s and Manhattan Sweets) with a strong work ethic rare in 18-year-olds
- Bright and gregarious
- Genuine young man
- Life of the party
- He made you feel smart
- You could tell he knew a lot
- Freshman at Farmingdale with aspirations of being a psychologist
- He was determined to do whatever it took to make the people around him happy
- He was a bright vivacious little boy who grew to be a fine young man
- Helped his grandfather step by step with his home improvement projects
- One of the most sweetest and polite young men. How many teenagers would ask if you needed help carrying in your groceries?
…and finally, I think this story told by one of his friends says a lot about who this young man was:
I have shared and cherished so many memories with Kyle. One of my favorites was when he texted me asking what I was doing, I told him I was about to get coffee with my cousin. When I got to Starbucks Kyle was already there with my usual coffee and a cupcake in a little pink box. This was a prime example of the things Kyle would do for the people close to him. He always went out of his way to make those close to him smile. I will always remember all the great qualities of his and how much he meant to me.
Like I said, I never knew Kyle in life. I hope I relayed these things correctly. If you knew him, please feel free to share his stories here so we can, too. Here’s a link to his memorial video: http://www.nationaltributes.com/webvideos/K_Underhill.html
Meanwhile, we can each take control of how the world remembers Kyle Underhill. When talking about this horrific event as we are trying to deal with it, please remember to refer to Kyle by name to maintain his humanity, something so easily lost when a life is ended this way. Also remember Kyle had a family and friends whose lives will never be the same after this loss. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they embark on this holiday season without him. Most of all, if you have any information about Kyle Underhill’s last days, please contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477). Your call will be kept confidential but it might make a huge difference for a lot of people.
Also a friend of Kyle’s, Chris Cutrone, is putting together a petition to install street lights on Brook Street in Islip. Everyone familiar with that spot knows how dark, secluded and eerie it is. Having street lights there would make it a safer place for everyone. A shining light keeping our community safe from harm seems a more fitting legacy for Kyle Underhill. If you agree and would like to put your name to this petition, please contact me. Our community watch group is meeting on November 30th and I should be able to provide more details then.