MIAMI -- Bryan Pata's body was laid to rest last week, and most of the people who attended the funeral of the slain University of Miami football player have moved on with their lives -- albeit with heavier hearts.
But Pata's family cannot rest. His mother, Jeanette, a Haitian immigrant who worked double shifts as a hotel maid to provide for her nine children, said she lies tormented in her North Miami bed every night trying to figure out who would want to kill her youngest son and why. Police are wondering the same thing and have been tight-lipped about the investigation.
"Me and Bryan were very, very close, so even though he is gone, I still talk to him and I say, 'Bryan, tell me who killed you. Tell your Mommy who killed you,'" Jeanette Pata said. "Somebody out there knows something, and I believe the truth will come out."
The tortured mother and her grieving children try to piece together the final months, weeks, days and hours of Bryan's life, searching for clues.
There was, according to one relative, a mysterious, "threatening" call Pata got in April, a call that left him so shaken he went to sleep at his sister Ronette's apartment. Ronette would not elaborate on the nature of the phone call.
A few months ago, Pata also mentioned to relatives an altercation involving Miami players at Club Life, a downtown nightclub owned by Pata's friend, Shawn Shahnazi, a Coconut Grove resident and Miami fan who hired Pata and some of his teammates to work security in the offseason.
Shahnazi was one of the first people to arrive at the scene on Nov. 7, and he helped the Pata family with everything from food platters to fund-raising in the following days.
"Yes, there was a fight outside the club involving a few teammates, and Bryan came out at one point, but I truly don't believe that is connected," Shahnazi said. "For one thing, it was back in June or July, almost six months ago, and also, Bryan was not one of the main people involved. It was some regular guys picking a fight with the players, telling them they're not big shots just because they're UM players, saying stuff to their girlfriends, but Bryan was barely involved.
"I know him well, and I believe whatever happened to him was not because of anything bad he did. He just ticked off the wrong person for some reason."
Pata was a gun collector (he had a concealed weapons permit), dreamed of being in the FBI after his football career was over, and enjoyed going to the shooting range. His other hobby was restoring old cars. He would buy them cheap, purchase new rims, engines, paint them, and re-sell them. None of the dozens of people interviewed said they had any reason to believe the guns or car business had any bearing on his death. Pata had a clean police record, and though he had 35 traffic citations since 2000, most of them were for driving without proof of insurance, without a license, and faulty equipment.
"Bryan is my best friend, and I never heard him mention that he was in trouble with anyone or worried about anyone," said Dave Howell, a former Miami player who transferred to Portland State in Oregon and spoke at Pata's memorial service. "He hung out with teammates, his family and his girlfriend, and that's about it. It's a mystery. I can't imagine who would want to kill a guy like that."
What is known is that Pata was killed by a bullet to the back of the head when he arrived at his apartment complex about 7:30 p.m. after practice that. He parked his 2005 Infiniti SUV, got out of the vehicle, but never made it to the door of the apartment he shared with his girlfriend Jada Brody, his teammate Dwayne Hendricks, and a Yorkshire Terrier named Cheerio.
Brody, a Miami sophomore from West Palm Beach, discovered the body and is believed to have made the 911 call. Police investigators have interviewed Brody, Pata's relatives, and several Miami players, but haven't said if they have a suspect or a motive.
Asked via Instant Messenger to discuss the events of Nov. 7, Brody replied: "I don't want to talk about that day. Please. It's too painful. I don't want to recall everything -- I'm trying to forget about it."
She also answered "no comment" when asked about the Club Life scuffle, offering only that Pata "enjoyed clubs, that one as well as others, but no comment on the rest."
Brody, who was in the National Honor Society and student government at Palm Beach Central High School, wrote that she preferred to reminisce about happier times, such as the day before he was killed -- their one-year anniversary of dating.
"We both had classes during the day, but that night we went out," she wrote. "We planned on going to Benihana's on the beach, but it was closed. So, we went to a restaurant that was connected to a bowling alley. It was so much fun. Just us two enjoying each other's company, like always. He just had a way of making me so happy. Anniversary or no anniversary, he treated me like a queen. I got him a really nice card. I'm big on cards. I asked him what he wanted and he told me not to waste money right now because there's nothing he really needed. He told me, 'I got you baby ... that's all I need right now.' "
Pata and Brody had their ups and downs as a couple, she said, but they always made up and she considered him her "soulmate."
They enjoyed watching movies at home, and eating at a Haitian restaurant in North Miami. "We always got the same thing -- a No. 11. fried chicken wings, rice and beans, and plantains. I'd get the sweet plantains, and he got the green ones. Oh, and fruit punch."
They also liked to visit Pata's sister Ronette, who went out of her way to cook her baby brother's favorite dishes: a T-bone steak, brown rice and beans, potato salad, seafood pasta and jerk chicken. They were there on the Sunday before Pata died, with Hendricks and Antonio Dixon.
"Bryan ate so much food that day, and the guys were laughing so hard because they were eating so much," Ronette said. "When they were done eating, he asked me to rub the back of his head and his neck. He's done that since he was a kid. He always said whoever he married had to have hands as soft as mine so she could rub his neck like I do. He was all big and macho on the outside, but he was mush on the inside. A big teddy bear."
Brody called Pata "the love of my life," and had his middle name, Sidney, tattooed on her neck. "That's what his entire family calls him," she wrote. "It was just a start to my personal healing."
The tension of the past 10 days showed in Brody's face at the funeral and memorial services. She sat off to the side, away from the family, which led to whispers that perhaps they had a strained relationship or that she knew something about the crime. Pata's brother, Edwin, said: "It wasn't always a fairy-tale romance between Bryan and Jada, but she definitely was his first real serious girlfriend, and I believe he cared for her deeply and loved her."
Pata's mother said she met Brody six months ago, and, "like any mother," was not too thrilled to open his closet and find women's clothing and discover the couple was living together.
"I always told Bryan to be careful with girls, and not to rush into anything," she said. "Bryan told me she was a good girl, not to worry. I know she is a smart girl, on scholarship."
Brody said she had no trouble with the family, that she admired and loved Bryan's mother, but didn't know her as well as she knew the sisters. "His mom was really protective of Bryan. She just wanted the best for him. He was special, so I totally understand why, because he deserved the absolute best."
Pata and his mother shared an unusually close relationship. On his MySpace personal Web site, among photos of his friends and his car, is a picture of his mother with a caption that reads: "My beautiful mother that I love with all my heart."
Jeanette Pata arrived in Miami on June 12, 1978, from the Bahamas, where she had lived for several years and met Pata's father, Junior Pierre. The young couple arrived with two children and pregnant with Ronette.
"We came here for a better, safer life," said Jeanette Pata, who took a job as a maid at the Hyatt Regency. They had five more children together, and Pierre, who worked as a butler and yard man, left the family in 1992. Bryan was 8.
The sons didn't speak to their father for many years, but they reconciled two years ago. Pierre was at the funeral with his new wife and three younger children.
"We always had a hard time financially, but it got 10 times worse when my dad left," said Edwin Pata. "My mom had to start working really long hours, so the older kids were left to take care of the younger kids. Ronette did all the cooking, and making sure we did our schoolwork, and Cosner played sports with the younger boys."
The family moved constantly, and typically lived in two-bedroom homes -- the six boys in one room, and the three girls with Jeanette. The kids attended five different elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools.
"We never got to hold onto friends," Edwin said. "We didn't get to play organized sports or go on family trips. But my mom bought us each a nice new pair of shoes at the start of each school year, we always had clean clothes, and the minute we turned 14, she enrolled us in the summer youth employment program. We all worked from an early age."
The kids spent their afternoons and early evenings at Highland Village Park off Biscayne Blvd., playing basketball, sandlot football and endless games of Ping-Pong. Basketball was Bryan Pata's first love, but he got too bulky and followed his older brothers into football. Edwin is a walk-on tight end at Florida State University and working on a master's degree in public administration. Edrick got an athletic scholarship to Virginia Union University.
Bryan never had the affinity for football that he did for basketball, but he knew because of his size (6 feet 4, 280 pounds) the NFL was a realistic possibility, and he would be able to help his retired mother and siblings. His eldest sister, Ketty, is a billing clerk at a West Palm Beach hospital; Cosner is a medical aide at Parkway General Hospital; Ronette is an assistant manager at Winn Dixie; Fednol works at the Publix warehouse; Nellie is a stay-at-home mom, and Jackson is in prison in Martin County.
"Bryan said, 'Mom, I have a dream for you, I'm going to make you happy some day,' " Jeanette Pata said. He had become a hero in April, cheering wildly when he got picked, and then watching him walk down the aisle in a graduation cap in May. Instead, the mother stood over her 22-year-old son's casket at the viewing Nov. 13, screaming: "Wake up, Sidney! Wake up!" And his sister, Nellie, overcome with grief, wailed, "Why? Why? Why?"