His sister Autumn has dreamed about a career in law enforcement since she was 8. Her mother persuaded her to get the FAU bachelor’s degree first, instead of going directly to a police academy. She loaded up on classes this summer and is scheduled to graduate in the spring.
Spencer, like his siblings, is taking extra courses his first year. He resembles his older brother, but is more of a gangly, loose-limbed version.
Ashley Reyka Steele, 26, the ER nurse, is working toward a doctorate of nursing, which she expects to complete in 2014. Her goal is to be a nurse practitioner; she prefers the increase in responsibility and decision-making that goes with that career.
“We get that from our parents. They’re both hard workers,” Steele said. “They passed down to us to have a work ethic, and not expect to have things handed to us.”
In November, Ashley Reyka married Anthony Steele. They had been friends since middle school, but in the weeks after her father was killed, he asked her out and their relationship deepened.
All the Reykas wear some memento of Chris Reyka. Kim wears a black rubber bracelet with his name on it. Autumn wears a “thin blue line” bracelet crocheted out of nylon cord. Ashley wears a small pin with 9463, her father’s badge number.
One of Sean Reyka’s classes deals with “high-risk traffic stops” – practice in approaching a car that may be stolen or may be driven by someone wanted by police. Chris Reyka made such a stop in the early hours of Aug. 10, 2007, in the Walgreens parking lot. Relentless about tracking stolen license plates, he had won an Employee of the Month award for his diligence.
He approached a white sedan bearing stolen plates. Reyka was shot five times and never removed his gun from its holster. The case remains open.
The fifth anniversary of the shooting will probably be the quietest. A memorial motorcycle ride is planned, but the family will mostly keep to itself.
Each year as the anniversary approaches, everyone in the family gets a little edgy, remembering the night when then-Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne and a chaplain came to the Reykas’ door in Wellington. Autumn Reyka said she becomes moody in the days leading up to the anniversary. Kim Reyka and Steele are spending time with Reyka’s sister.
“Instead of making one day special, we recognize him every day,” Steele said. “He never left us.”
The Reyka home in Wellington is the center of this family’s universe. And Kim Reyka is the center of this home. Though her youngest is heading to college in weeks, Kim Reyka won’t have even a moment as an empty-nester. She is caring for her two grandsons, both age 2, both named Christopher in honor of their “Papa.” They stay with Reyka while Sean and Autumn complete their education. Her house is full of toy trucks and tents and booster seats.
Autumn Reyka has turned her bedroom into a shrine to her dad, with blown-up newspaper pages about his death, a shadow box with a collage of his Marine gear and a quilt made of his shirts, put together by her dad’s sister.
“When my friends say, `I hate my brother’ or `I hate my father,’ I tell them, `You don’t want to say that; you want to take that back.’ “