BELFAST, Maine — Rhonda Seaney spread photographs of her son, Tyler Seaney, around her Thursday as she began to talk about his short, smiling life. She held his ancient, beloved stuffed bunny, Sampson. Then she unpacked a red, white and blue container and placed that next to her.
“That’s Tyler,” said Seaney, of Belfast, referring to the ashes she keeps in the small container.
His mom said she wanted her son to be in the room while she and others talked about the young man they described as colorful, compassionate and inspirational.
Tyler Seaney’s life ended 18 months ago in a farmhouse on a remote Waldo County road, when his friend Luke Bryant killed him with a shotgun blast to the neck. Bryant was convicted last week of manslaughter for the death of the 19-year-old, who was gearing up to begin basic training for the Army.
During the four-day-long jury trial, attention was tightly focused on the events of the evening of Feb. 19, 2011, and Tyler’s death. But his family — mom Rhonda Seaney, dad Darren Seaney, brother Christopher Seaney and sister Ashley Seaney — were eager to talk about his life and what his loss has meant to them.
“The most amazing thing about Tyler is that while his death was so tragic, and has left most of us with a hole in our hearts, every time any of us find ourselves thinking of a memory, or a story to share with someone, we all just smile,” his sister wrote in an email to the BDN. “He constantly was smiling, always joking around with everyone — absolutely anything he could do to make anyone smile, he’d do.”
Family members who gathered together Thursday laughed and cried a little, too, as they shared funny stories about Tyler. Like the time they spotted him in front of Alexia’s Pizza in downtown Belfast doing calisthenics while wearing 1970s-style gym clothes and a headband.
“There was a mob of kids on the sidewalk, just laughing,” Rhonda Seaney said.
Or the way he named his first car, a Saturn, “Emily Bucket,” and tacked an Irish flag to the inside roof.
“When he was younger, he was picked on,” Darren Seaney said. “He had glasses, and he had braces. We taught him just to be yourself. Once he started to be himself, watch out.”
Because their son went through a significant awkward stage, his parents said, it made him more thoughtful about other kids who were outcasts.
“He was always bringing kids home who were troubled,” Rhonda Seaney said. “I always had kids at my house who weren’t mine. You feed them, and they stay.”
After the Seaneys got divorced when Tyler was 8, his mom moved from Corinna to Belfast. There, Tyler met his real best friend — a young man named Kameron Dow, who now is serving in the Marines in Afghanistan. His parents said that they did not like the way that Tyler and Luke Bryant were often characterized as best friends by defense attorney Steven Peterson of Rockport during the trial.
Bryant was in Tyler’s gang of friends, they said, but was quiet. He didn’t seem to have much guidance at home and lived by himself as a teenager, first in an apartment in Belfast and then in the apartment in Knox where Tyler died.
They also had a hard time believing that the young man they raised would be as careless around guns as was suggested during the trial. Bryant said that he and Tyler used to play the “scare game” together — during which they would point weapons at each other in order to get a rise out of the other person.
Darren Seaney said that he is a hunter, and taught his sons to be careful with firearms. Tyler shot four deer and a turkey before he was 16 years old, he said.
“He grew up with a foot in his [rear] around guns,” he said. “There’s no doubt he treated guns with respect in my presence.”
When Tyler was in high school, he blossomed out of his awkward stage and got handsome, his parents said. He discovered girls. And he joined the drama department at Belfast Area High School, where he found himself very comfortable on the stage.
Christopher Seaney, 19, looks a lot like his brother but said that the two had diverse interests.
“He was different. He had a different way of seeing things than I did,” he said. “It always inspired me a lot. I looked up to him.”
After high school graduation, it took Tyler a little while to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He worked at Walmart in both Palmyra and Bangor and began taking community college classes before enlisting in the Army.
His recruiter told the “skinny, scrawny” young man that he had to gain weight before starting boot camp, his sister wrote.
“Tyler really tried to,” Ashley Seaney said. “I would call him to chat and I would hear, ‘Yeah, I just ran up the road, did some jumping jacks and ate about a stick of butter today.’ I always would tell him it must be horrible to be instructed to eat and gain weight and he always just laughed. Honestly, he really set quite an example on how to just enjoy every moment we have.”
Tyler also loved his girlfriend, Whitney Canfield, and his mom said one of the family’s regrets is that he didn’t live long enough to get married and have a family.
He and his girlfriend went to Bryant’s apartment that weekend because there was meant to be a going-away party for Tyler, Rhonda Seaney said.
Tyler’s death has changed the whole family.
“It’s just left a hole,” his father said.
“That we haven’t started to figure out how to fill,” his mother finished.
They hoped the trial would provide them with some closure, but that has not yet been the case, they said.
“It changes everything,” Christopher said. “It’s just taken away so much. And there’s so much to say.”
One thing they’re grateful for is that Tyler in some ways had a head start on life. After he learned to be himself, with all his uniqueness and spark, he lived his life with joy and integrity.
“Sometimes it takes people a lifetime to figure that out,” Rhonda Seaney said.