Shawn LaBeet: Cop Killer Redux
For 51 years, Chris Reyka seemed proof of some higher power. A clean-cut, churchgoing former Marine with snow-white hair and a strong jaw, Reyka was an incarnation of the American dream. He had overcome tragedy to build a family and career as a police officer. Every day he pinned a Broward Sheriff's badge on his crisply starched shirt, climbed into his cruiser, and chased down criminals. And every night, when he came home, it was another small victory in the face of so much senseless violence.
Until the night he didn't come home. The night he pulled into a Pompano Beach Walgreens parking lot shortly after midnight, spotted a suspicious white sedan, and ran its license plate. The night of August 10, 2007.
Sure enough, the plate was stolen. But as Reyka stepped out of his squad car and into the neon sheen, shots rang out like firecrackers on a string. The sergeant crumpled onto the concrete: a bullet in his head, four more in his body.
The murder set off a massive manhunt. Hundreds of cops scoured the county. Authorities offered a quarter-million-dollar reward. And the owners of every white sedan in South Florida soon found themselves answering questions on the side of the road.
Yet nothing stuck. Not even when cops caught a trio of drugstore bandits who had been terrorizing Broward. Chris Reyka, a father of four, would not be avenged.
So when another cop was killed a month later in Miami, Reyka's murder slid off the front page. Taking his place in the headlines was Shawn LaBeet, a 25-year-old former honor student. LaBeet had snapped during a September 13 traffic stop, killing Miami-Dade Police Officer Jose Somohano and wounding three others. Hours later, LaBeet himself died in a barrage of police bullets.
Each death was its own mystery. Who shot Chris Reyka? And what caused Shawn LaBeet to crack?
For six years, the questions festered. Now, however, Broward Sheriff's Office detectives believe the mysteries are anything but separate. They say the two cases have a common solution: The man who gunned down Chris Reyka was Shawn LaBeet.
It's a bold statement, and even some other cops think the evidence is thin. But a New Times investigation bolsters BSO's claims. Both LaBeet and his family had a history of violence. He was obsessed with guns and violent videogames, was heavily involved in illegal activities, and bore a bloody grudge against law enforcement. New evidence also places LaBeet near the scene of the crime. And he was paranoid, even suicidal, between Reyka's slaying and his own desperate last stand.
"LaBeet was a time bomb waiting to go off," says John Curcio, the detective handling the case. "He was a police officer's worst nightmare."
Richard and Mattie-Ruth Griffin stepped off the 18th green and into the shade of the Fountain Valley golf club. The married couple had taken the short flight from Miami to Saint Croix only a few days earlier. Now they set their clubs on the cool concrete terrace and lined up for a buffet. They didn't notice the five men in military fatigues emerge from the blood-red bougainvillea bushes until it was too late.
The tall one carried a machine gun. He lifted its five-pound frame with the familiarity of a soldier. Then he fired into the crowd.
Bullets tore through the food line. They splintered tables, shattered furniture, and buried themselves in walls. By the time the magazine clip was empty, the Griffins and six others were dead.
The motives of the September 6, 1972 assault were murky. Some said it was a robbery. Others claimed it was an attack on the island's wealthy white minority. But one thing was clear: The man behind the machine gun — and the massacre — was Ishmael LaBeet, Shawn's half-brother.
The Fountain Valley Massacre, as it came to be known, occurred a decade before Shawn LaBeet was born. But its legacy would hang over the LaBeets, casting a shadow on the family's youngest son until the day 35 years later when Shawn, too, would grab a machine gun and unleash chaos.
The crime scene has long since been rechristened Carambola Beach Resort & Spa, an expanse of emerald fairways and luxury hotel rooms with lamps shaped like pineapples. But the golf club killings remain famous in Saint Croix. At the time, the carnage was unheard of in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In fact, the Fountain Valley killings seemed to usher in a new and terrible age for the tropical tourist destination.
"Murder in Paradise," announced a headline in the New York Times. Two months after the massacre, robbers killed two more whites. The next summer, five.
Much of the media coverage focused on a rising tide of "antiwhite resentment," as the Times put it. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and the introduction of television sowed both anger over the war and support for Black Power on the islands. Ishmael LaBeet would become the face of both.
According to family lore, the LaBeets are descended from pirates. Ishmael's father, Stanley, did nothing to debunk the idea. Stanley and his brother were medics stationed in Puerto Rico during World War II. "On weekends, they would go to bars with the sole intention of beating someone up," says Willie Wilson, a local schoolteacher who wrote a memoir about life in Saint Croix, Glassbottom Days.
Stanley was also "the village ram," or ladies' man, Wilson says. Over the course of many decades, he had at least 19 children with several much younger women. Ishmael was the oldest son; Shawn the youngest.
Ishmael had an even harder edge than his father. But it was Vietnam that made the young man truly violent. "He had a bad feeling about going over to Vietnam and killing a bunch of people who looked like him," Wilson says. "One day he fired into a hut only to realize he had just put a .50-caliber machine gun round through a pregnant woman." Ishmael was wounded in the war but ordered to return after he recovered. He refused, punching a commanding officer and earning himself several months in the clink — where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Ishmael Ali.
By the time Ishmael returned to Saint Croix in 1972, he and the island had changed. Whites had begun buying up businesses. There were few opportunities for native-born Cruzans, let alone a drunk and disorderly Vietnam vet. Whether spurred by financial desperation or racial rage, Ishmael plotted the assault on Fountain Valley. He mowed down the eight men and women — all but one of whom were white — and led the band of assassins into the jungle afterward.
They were quickly caught, and the trial soon transfixed the entire United States. Ishmael's supporters surrounded the courthouse with fists raised in salute. It didn't help. When a judge sentenced Ishmael and his codefendants to eight life terms, LaBeet spat on the floor three times and was led away kicking and screaming.
Chris Reyka likely saw the spectacle on TV in Lauderhill. He was a student at Piper High School, already plotting to sign up for the Marines. His mother would die unexpectedly just a few years later, and his father, an Air Force pilot, struggled to raise Chris and his seven siblings on his own.
Unlike Ishmael LaBeet, Reyka never went to Vietnam. But when he left the service, he, too, had a hard time finding work. Reyka took a job mowing lawns. He cut grass with the same careful precision he had used to clean his rifle. He married Kim, a pretty Sears cashier who would later work for the IRS, and in 1984 she became pregnant with their first child.
By then, Ishmael LaBeet had spent a decade appealing his conviction. On New Year's Eve 1984, he and three U.S. marshals boarded a packed flight from Saint Croix to New York so he could be transferred to yet another prison. Once the plane was in the air, Ishmael said he felt sick. He roiled in his seat, complaining of stomach pains. Finally, the marshals uncuffed him and allowed him to use the lavatory. When Ishmael emerged moments later, he was holding a pistol.
He ordered the plane to turn around. When it touched down two hours later in Havana, the convicted murderer ambled down the stairs and onto the tarmac. He hasn't been heard of since.
It was an incredible escape: the last chapter in Ishmael LaBeet's already legendary and lawless life. But the daring disappearing act would prove difficult to duplicate decades later for Ishmael's youngest brother, Shawn.
He, too, would despise authority, lash out, and then vanish. But instead of staying hidden, Shawn LaBeet would reinvent himself and go on a rampage. A rampage authorities say would cost Sgt. Chris Reyka and another police officer their lives.
Shawn LaBeet grew up in the same slumping slat-board house as his oldest brother, yet he seemed a very different child. At least at first.
Ishmael had hijacked American Airlines Flight 626 to Cuba when Shawn was just 2 years old. But stories of Ishmael's crimes swirled around Shawn like the easterly trade winds. Though strangely quiet, he wasn't deaf.
"He was a sweet kid," remembers Wilson, who grew up nearby. "We were invited over to their house for dinner once. My wife took a liking to him. She brought him some pastels because he was always drawing.
"That was all I remember of him," Wilson says, "until I read about his death."
Between his quiet childhood and emphatic end lie the secrets of Shawn LaBeet. But interviews and court records partially unwrap the enigma. After moving to the mainland United States, the quiet kid became obsessed with guns and violent videogames. He also developed a grudge against cops. The combination quickly got him into trouble, leading to a life on the run and a bloody legacy to rival his infamous older brother's.
Shawn LaBeet followed his older siblings to South Florida sometime in the mid-'90s. His mother, Elizabeth, found a job at a Publix warehouse in Deerfield Beach. Shawn spent his days at Northeast, a shabby, low-slung high school in Oakland Park.
Shawn had light-brown skin, wide-set eyes, and wispy facial hair. He would have been handsome if not for his nose, which was bulbous and slightly crooked. At Northeast, Shawn met a sallow Italian-American girl named Renee D'Angelo. The two began to date.
"He was great in school," says his sister Lesley Johnson. She says her youngest brother attended private academies on the islands and spent hours reading old encyclopedias. His life in South Florida was no different. Shawn graduated from Northeast when he was just 16 with a 4.0 GPA, Johnson says.
But his mother would later tell detectives that Shawn's intelligence hid a dark side. He had been "a problem child," she said, "and had anger issues his entire life."
"He was quiet, but if you fucked with him, you'd find yourself in a bad spot," says nephew Jaleel Torres. The two grew up together, spearfishing and skateboarding in the islands. But Torres noticed a change in his uncle once they moved to the United States. "Here, it was real hateful," he says. "There was a lot of racism, and people use all these crazy words, like 'cracker,' 'nigger,' 'Chink.' "
Nor did Shawn's island antics fly well with authorities in South Florida. Torres says his uncle was arrested several times as a minor — records are sealed — and was locked up. "He was foaming at the mouth and shit," Torres says. "I don't know if he was claustrophobic or what the hell it was. But when he came out of there, he said, 'I'll never go to jail again.' "
From then on, Shawn held a grudge against those who had put him behind bars. "He hated cops. Just hated them. Period," Torres says. "He didn't believe in another man taking his freedom. And if he did, it was worth killing him over."
Shawn also began showing a sick fascination with violence. He and Torres would play bloody videogames such as Grand Theft Auto and Samurai Showdown like millions of other young men. But for uncle and nephew — only a few years apart — the games began bleeding into reality.
One autumn, Shawn bought Torres an air rifle. Then he encouraged his nephew to start shooting the squirrels and birds behind his house. When the pile of dead animals began to stink, Shawn scooped them into a bag and left them on a neighbor's doorstep for Halloween.
Some of their pranks were more serious. Torres says his uncle took him to an abandoned house and pulled out a can of gasoline. They splashed the place, lit a match, and watched it burn. "It was awesome," Torres recalls. Another time, Shawn recruited his nephew to help him sell drugs at Ultra Music Festival.
Shawn's relationship with Renee only made him more volatile. She was jealous and controlling, Torres says, and tried to keep Shawn from the rest of his family. That isolation only grew worse when D'Angelo gave birth to their first daughter, Shawna, in 2000. The kid would grow up in a chaotic household.
Shawna was barely 2 years old when her father exploded with anger. It was April Fool's Day 2002, and Shawn and Renee were drinking 151 rum and Coke with her cousin at the couple's house in North Lauderdale. They sat on the patio trading swigs, and Shawn decided to spark up. But when he went inside to pinch some pot off the brick in his freezer, it was missing. He burst out of the house with a 12-gauge shotgun, accusing the cousin of stealing his stash.
Shawn put the barrel to his friend's chest and demanded the dope, according to a police report. But the cousin swatted the gun aside. As the two wrestled for the weapon, it went off. D'Angelo howled in pain as the blast raked across her left thigh.
As she limped inside to grab a towel to stop the bleeding, her boyfriend and her cousin spun insanely in the front yard. The shotgun went off again, spraying buckshot into the night. Finally, Shawn dropped the shotgun, and the men sprinted in different directions.
D'Angelo called 911. But by the time police and paramedics arrived, Shawn and the shotgun were gone. Despite the box of shotgun shells on her bed and the wound with an eight-inch spread, D'Angelo claimed she had been stabbed. Then she clammed up.
Shawn was the only suspect, but cops couldn't find him. Somehow, he had slipped back to the islands. And there, in one of the shops lining the narrow streets of Charlotte Amalie in Saint Thomas, he bought himself a new identity.
Six months after shooting his girlfriend, Shawn LaBeet returned to South Florida a different man — at least on paper. While cops searched for LaBeet, he had all the documentation required to reinvent himself as Kevin Wehner: a 30-year-old Jacksonville construction worker.
The new identity not only allowed him to avoid arrest but also enabled him to amass an arsenal he would ultimately use to wage war on police.
At first, LaBeet hid in Panama for several months before returning to his girlfriend and daughter, Torres says. The couple married in secret and moved to a dusty subdivision in Naranja to avoid detection. But there, LaBeet was quickly back to his old ways. That meant drugs, dogs, guns, and videogames.
LaBeet gradually gave up selling drugs, Torres says, but only because he found safer products to sling: dogs and guns. Using the names "Kevin Wehner" and "Kevin Smith," LaBeet set up websites advertising bulldogs for sale. When cops would search his home after his death, they would find entire rooms turned into makeshift kennels. Cages filled the hallways and backyard.
When he was bored, LaBeet sometimes watched his dogs fight in the kitchen. But more often, he simply used them to scam people. He stole photos of other breeders' dogs and obtained fraudulent certificates stating his dogs were much younger than they were, according to police reports and internet complaints. "Do not send them money!" one customer warned on ripoffreport.com. "You cannot trust these thieves."
But his shady breeding business was nothing compared to his obsession with guns. On March 14, 2006, LaBeet walked into Kiffney's Firearms in Key Largo and ordered three Yugoslavian rifles. He provided Wehner's driver's license and social security number. Two weeks later, LaBeet returned and bought a pistol. He also asked the store owner for four bulletproof vests, four gas masks, and four additional guns. But Thomas Kiffney refused and called the ATF's Miami office.
Torres admits his uncle was more than a gun enthusiast: He was a black-market weapons dealer. LaBeet eventually quit straw-buying when one of the guns he sold was used for a murder, Torres says. In fact, a month after Kiffney called in his suspicious customer, the store owner received a reply from the ATF: One of LaBeet's Yugoslavian rifles had been recovered by police. But the ATF apparently failed to pursue the case.
LaBeet and his teenage nephew Robert Johnson would spend days playing Grand Theft Auto and talking about the guns in the game. "He had a crazy side," Johnson says. LaBeet would drive his nephew to the shooting range, pull an assortment of guns from the trunk, hand over Wehner's license, and start rattling off rounds. LaBeet was always packing — usually a pistol in his waistband and an assault rifle in his car trunk. "He was into certain guns from Grand Theft Auto, like M16s and AK-47s," Johnson says. "He kept himself safe."
In reality, he was obsessed. His house was littered with guns, holsters, ammunition, and plastic baggies of bullets. On the hutch in his living room rested a CZ 52 pistol, an extra magazine, and a book titled Stress Fire Gun Fighting for Police. Another handgun was wedged behind his bed, just a few feet from where his youngest daughter slept.
LaBeet was also a marksman. Johnson remembers comparing targets with his uncle after rounds. The bullet holes on LaBeet's sheet were always tightly clustered around the head and heart. "Kill shots," Johnson says. "It was like playing darts for him."
But there were increasing signs that Shawn was confusing real life with Grand Theft Auto. A neighbor later told police that LaBeet had pulled out a pistol and pointed it at him one night for no reason.
LaBeet did far more than threaten violence. One time, he spotted a Miami-Dade Police cruiser near his house in Naranja. He pulled his AK from the trunk and "took a pot shot" at the cop, LaBeet later told Torres. He also bragged about killing someone he caught trying to steal his dogs. Police say both stories broadly match unsolved crimes.
Like his older brother Ishmael before him, Shawn also began mixing guns and God. He, too, converted to Islam in 2005, a sister later told police. He and D'Angelo had two more kids in 2006 and 2007, and Shawn gave the youngest an Arabic name: Fatima.
In the month before his death, Shawn began acting even stranger than usual. He grew a beard, as if trying to disguise his appearance. He often told friends or family that people were "after him." And his mother, Elizabeth, later described him as "suicidal" in his final days.
Most telling, however, was a conversation LaBeet had with Torres only a few days after Chris Reyka was gunned down. LaBeet had been taking tons of LSD and Ecstasy and seemed to be shaken by something. "I had a dream," he kept telling his nephew. "I had a dream about being in a shootout with police."
Two weeks after Reyka's death, LaBeet approached Richard Lherisson, a friend and fellow dog breeder, and asked him where he could get a fake ID. LaBeet said he was wanted in another state. A week later, he was back at Lherisson's kennel, bragging about buying a new AK-47 with a scope and laser.
During each visit, D'Angelo drove LaBeet because "he did not want the police to stop him," Lherisson later told detectives. And if cops ever pulled him over, Shawn promised, he would "go out in a blaze of glory."
Shawn LaBeet's busted-up Buick LeSabre screeched something fierce as it swerved along SW 145th Avenue. It was a beautiful late-summer morning, and to the west, the Naranja reservoir glinted the same insane green as the bay in Saint Thomas. But as LaBeet barreled down the road, he could see only red.
Ten minutes earlier, a veterinarian had refused to forge age certificates for two bulldogs in the back seat. Now LaBeet was enraged. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, he could see D'Angelo's white and black Honda Civic recede as he stepped on the gas.
As he passed a gray sedan headed in the opposite direction, something strange happened. The car suddenly swung around and began following him. The plainclothes police officers inside were patrolling for home intruders when they spotted the speeding LeSabre. Instead of a traffic stop, they got a war.
LaBeet had talked about this day enough that D'Angelo knew what to do. She slowed her Honda and began driving in the middle of the road to run interference. Meanwhile, her husband's maroon Buick fishtailed through four lanes of traffic and squealed into the Sea Pines Apartments.
By the time Miami-Dade cops Jose Somohano and Christopher Carlin caught up to LaBeet, he was already jumping out of his car and bolting into his backyard. Somohano, a former school cop with a crewcut and two kids, sprinted after him. But when Somohano opened the gate, bulldogs snarled in his face. The cops doubled back to the front door, where D'Angelo was stepping out of her car with her two older kids, ages 7 and 1.
"Who's in the house?" Carlin asked.
"Nobody," D'Angelo answered. "Nobody's in the house."
"Who was just driving that car? He just ran into your house!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," D'Angelo said. But when the cops pressed her once more, she cracked. "Well, if it's anybody, it's Kevin," she said, using LaBeet's pseudonym.
"Go get him," Carlin said. "We just want to talk to him."
D'Angelo let the two officers into the shabby apartment to search for LaBeet, but all they found were rooms full of Chihuahuas and bulldogs. Suddenly, Somohano spotted LaBeet peering over the back fence. When cops called him inside, LaBeet bolted.
Carlin sprinted after him. But at the end of the block, LaBeet turned around again. "Back to the house!" Carlin called into his radio.
LaBeet jumped the backyard fence. Carlin began climbing after him until he remembered the dogs. Instead, he ran toward the front door. That was when he heard the shots, so loud and close together they could not possibly have come from his partner's Glock.
When he reached the front door, Carlin saw LaBeet, D'Angelo, and their two daughters standing next to the white Honda. The cop shouted for LaBeet to put his hands up. Instead, he reached inside the car and pulled out an AK-47.
In an instant, the air was alight. Carlin could feel burning copper bullet casings mince the morning air. He could hear the slugs crack into cars and windows and concrete as if the world were warping around him. They buried themselves in dumpsters and front doors and even the couch inside a neighboring apartment. And then they tore through the cop's right ankle.
Carlin dropped to the asphalt in pain. He huddled between two cars. Just then, two Miami-Dade green-and-whites pulled up in front of the apartment. Officer Ron Zapustas raced over to Carlin and helped him limp out of LaBeet's crosshairs.
LaBeet — now dressed in a bulletproof vest — trained his laser sight on the other cops, more of whom were arriving every minute. Officer Jodi Wright climbed out of her squad car but barely drew her gun before LaBeet shot her in the leg. She slumped against an air-conditioning unit and screamed in pain as bullets skipped off the pavement around her.
When Officer Tomas Tundidor pulled up in front of D'Angelo's white Honda, rounds ricocheted inside his cruiser like lotto balls. Tundidor felt something sting his face and legs. He stepped on the gas and screeched out of the line of fire.
With cops pinned down, Shawn LaBeet did what his older brother had done 22 years earlier: escape. As slugs shattered the windshield and thudded into the car's door frame, LaBeet drove his wife's Honda over the grass and into oncoming traffic. In an instant, he was gone.Carlin looked up from his mangled leg and saw cops strewn about the apartment complex. Wright was still screaming. Tundidor was clutching his cheek. And there, at the front door of LaBeet's house, was Somohano.
The cop had been peering into the windows when LaBeet, the gamer and gun-range marksman, took sight and pulled the trigger from inside the house. A bullet caught Somohano and sent him to the ground. As the officer reached for his gun, LaBeet loomed over him and coolly emptied a clip into his chest and head.
When Carlin found his partner, he retched. The scene was grisly. Somohano's shattered sunglasses lay a few feet from his nearly unrecognizable body. His radio was drenched in blood but still squawking. And his gold neck chain now lay in pieces, glittering in the grass.
"Officer down," Carlin sobbed. "Officer down."
Drenched in sweat, gripping the AK-47 in one hand and a black pistol in the other, Shawn LaBeet stood on his friend Lázaro Guardiola's doorstep. "I just shot a cop," he confessed. "You got to get me out of here!"
Guardiola peered outside. Helicopters swirled overhead.
With the help of Guardiola's stepson, Alain Gonzalez, the two men stashed the Honda behind the house next to a canal. LaBeet tossed the AK under the car and stripped off his bloody bulletproof vest. Inside the house, he quickly shaved off the scraggly beard he'd worn for the past month and donned one of Alain's shirts. "Let's get the fuck out of here," he said, emerging from the bathroom with a new face.
The three men climbed into Guardiola's Mercedes. LaBeet began to describe the shooting, but Guardiola told him to shut up. Instead, LaBeet dialed his brother Shane.
"Come pick me up right away," he told his older brother. "I just killed a cop." Guardiola drove to a gas station near Krome Avenue and Okeechobee Road. Soon enough, Shane arrived in a rented black Pontiac Vibe. Shawn slid nervously into the back seat between his brother's two little children and told Shane's wife, Amy, to drive.
"What's going on?" Amy asked as she drove aimlessly around Opa-locka. Looking in the rear-view mirror, she could see blood smeared on her brother-in-law's hands and pants.
"I shot four cops," he finally answered. Panic gripped Shane and his wife. SWAT teams were searching for a wanted cop killer, and here he was: sandwiched between their toddlers inside a tiny car. As quickly as he could, Shane unloaded his brother on Jaleel Torres.
LaBeet was cool for having just killed a police officer. "He was real calm," Torres says. "He put a towel down on the ground and prayed a couple of times." LaBeet asked Allah for forgiveness but wasn't really torn up about taking another man's life. "He said he wished he could get another AK-47 and some more of 'em," Torres recalls.
The two men watched news coverage of the shootout in Naranja. Local stations kept showing photos of Kevin Wehner, not LaBeet, but Torres wanted the cop killer out of his apartment and off his conscience. After a few hours, he told LaBeet to lie in the back seat of his car and drove him to the Heron Pond apartments in Pembroke Pines.
Later that night, LaBeet called his nephew and asked him to deliver women's clothing and a wig. He planned to catch a boat back to Saint Thomas while dressed in drag.
He wouldn't make it. An armored car screeched to a halt in front of Torres' apartment just as he was leaving to meet LaBeet. Miami-Dade cops zip-tied his hands, dragged him into his house, and "beat the shit out of" him until he told them where his uncle was hiding, Torres claims.
Shortly after midnight, cops surrounded the Heron Pond complex. The Miami-Dade Police Special Response Team (SRT) slowly closed in on the pool area. They found LaBeet in the ladies' restroom.
Torres says he was in the back of a police pickup truck in the apartment parking lot when the air suddenly vibrated with scores of gunshots. SRT showed LaBeet no mercy: A coroner later found at least 15 bullet holes in the cop killer's body.
John Curcio knows more about the dead than most. The burly, bearded Broward Sheriff's Office detective once exonerated a dead man of murder. Now he hopes to do the opposite: convict Shawn LaBeet's corpse of killing Chris Reyka.
"LaBeet is our main suspect," Curcio says. "Everything about him just makes sense."
Curcio won't admit it, but catching Reyka's killer is personal for him. He has Reyka's badge number — 9463 — tattooed on his left wrist. And for more than a year after taking the case, he returned to the Walgreens parking lot every Friday to reflect on the crime.
After spending six months sorting through a roomful of files, Curcio settled on LaBeet as the main suspect. He has spent the past two years digging to unearth new evidence. He refuses to discuss his findings in detail, but he says one of the first things he did was track down an eyewitness who had been deported to Jamaica in 2010. That witness and others place LaBeet in the area at the time of the shooting.
Last July, news outlets reported that detectives had found spent 9mm casings at a car wash near the Walgreens — the same caliber used to kill Reyka — and that witnesses had placed LaBeet at the car wash later that night.
Initially, investigators had focused on the so-called CVS Bandits: three men who had been robbing drugstores before Reyka's killing. But Curcio says that scenario makes little sense. The men continued robbing for weeks after the shooting and never tried to reduce their robbery sentences by snitching about the killing.
Instead, the detective believes LaBeet is his man. But the most baffling question might go unanswered: If Shawn LaBeet killed Sergeant Reyka, setting in motion his cop-killing massacre a month later in Miami, what caused him to crack in the first place?
"I don't know," says Johnson, LaBeet's sister. "Something went wrong and he snapped. I can't tell you what was in his mind when it was happening. That's between him and the man above."
"To this day, I don't understand what happened," echoes Shane LaBeet, who spent almost a month in jail and a year on probation for helping his brother escape. "Shawn is already dead and gone. He's suffered for his crime. Lord knows the police officer's family has suffered. Everyone has suffered."
Renee D'Angelo refused to speak to New Times — not without reason. D'Angelo and five others — Shane LaBeet, Jaleel Torres, Lázaro Guardiola, Alain Gonzalez, and Gonzalez's mother, Alba Bello — were all put on probation for helping Shawn LaBeet escape.
Torres says he doesn't know anything about Reyka's killing except for LaBeet's strange dream. But cops believe LaBeet's closest buddy knows more. Torres is in prison in Polk County for dealing drugs. When New Times visited him to ask if he thought his uncle also killed Chris Reyka, Torres answered coyly, "Anything is possible."
Sean Reyka is torn over learning the truth about his father's murder. The gangly 26-year-old looks like his dad, only taller. "What's happened has happened," he says. "Whether it was LaBeet or someone else. Whether the guy gets caught and suffers some gruesome, horrible death or not isn't going to bring my father back."
Chris Reyka was a kind, quiet man, Sean says. He rarely spoke about his job, as if staying silent about the horrors he saw helped keep them at bay in his home. It wasn't until Sean enlisted in the Marines that his father opened up about his own military service.
"We would write back and forth," Sean says. "Especially in the tough times, to give me words of encouragement. I have all of these letters. I saved them, especially after what happened."
Sean returned home from boot camp shortly before his dad's murder. "All he wanted to do was hear my stories and talk and hang out," Sean remembers. "But a couple of nights, I went out with friends. Obviously, if I had known what was going to happen, I would have spent all ten nights with him."
Sean flew back to his barracks in Pensacola. There, three months later, he awoke to his mother's 2 a.m. phone call. The brand-new Marine broke down when he heard the news. Hours later, he touched down at Palm Beach International Airport, where family members hurried him out a back door and away from TV cameras.
Then there was the funeral. The 21-gun salute. And the slow climb out of despair. Sean was sent to Iraq, returned home, married, and had a son he named Chris.
His life has come to echo his father's in other ways. He is now a Broward Sheriff's deputy, donning the same badge every morning that his father died in. Now, more than ever, Sean understands his father, despite the mystery over his death."There's no sense building up anger or resentment toward a person who is either dead or possibly will never be found," he says, sitting in the Broward public safety building on Sgt. Chris Reyka Place. "That's not the way my father would want any of us to live."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.
- Should Joe Philbin Be Fired if Dolphins Lose to Jets in London?
Sat., Oct. 17, 12:00am
Sat., Oct. 17, 10:00am
Sat., Oct. 17, 6:00pm
Wed., Oct. 21, 8:00pm
- Florida's Bear Hunt Can Begin October 24, Judge Rules
- Pro-Life Group Launches Campaign to Have Rick Scott Defund Planned Parenthood