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A decade after murder of UT student, father publishes memoir to help ease others’ pain

Kevin McCall kept journals in the years after the death of his son, Ryan. They form the narrative of his new book.

TAMPA — Violent crime is often over in a few minutes. In another sense, it never ends.

Kevin McCall knows this most intimately.

It has been a decade since his son, University of Tampa track athlete Ryan McCall, was shot while walking home with a friend along a darkened city street. A three-year investigation yielded an arrest. The killer was convicted at trial.

But for McCall, 62, the memory of an early-morning visit from police, delivering the news of his son’s death, remains as vivid as ever.

The father recently published a book, For the Love of Family, recounting the tragedy and the raw horror of his struggles in the years that followed.

University of Tampa student Ryan McCall, 21, was shot and killed during a robbery off campus. [ [TIMES (2009)] | St. Petersburg Times ]

“I first started to write it just because I thought it was something I wanted to do for myself,” McCall said. As years passed, though, he began to think it might help other people if he shared his story.

The book began with a few scraps of paper where the grieving father jotted his thoughts in the days after Ryan’s death. It was the suggestion of a grief counselor. He later moved to notebooks, filling a dozen of them, wearing pencils down to nubs. He kept them all.

He begins his narrative when he met his wife, Joanne, and started a family in their native Pennsylvania. They had a daughter, Kimberly, and two sons, Kevin and Ryan.

He writes that when Ryan completed high school, he followed his older brother to UT. Eventually, the parents followed their sons to Florida, settling in Pasco County.

Kevin McCall began keeping journals after his son, Ryan, was murdered in 2009. He recently published his writings in a book, "For the Love of Family," an account of his struggles with grief. [ [RYANPMCCALL.COM] | Dan Sullivan ]

He recounts in detail his recollections about the morning of Aug. 19, 2009. He awoke close to 3 a.m., sensing that something wasn’t right. A few hours later, as he refilled his morning coffee cup, there came loud knocking at his front door.

He writes about the officers entering his home. Before they even told him why they were there, McCall knew something had happened to his son.

“As I get closer to the kitchen, I tell myself that whatever I hear, I must not react,” he wrote. “I will need all of my strength. I stand in the kitchen with my hand on the counter, trying to stay calm as I wait for the words. I can’t see anything around me. I am in a tunnel waiting for the train to hit me. I want to get out of the way but can’t move, and even if I could, the train was already off the track.”

The journal entries make up the bulk of the narrative, running chronologically from the days after Ryan’s death to the months that followed the killer’s conviction in court. The killer is never named in the book.

He offers snapshots of the family’s first Thanksgiving without Ryan, the first Christmas, Ryan’s 22nd birthday. There are glimpses of a father consumed in an unrelenting depression, and a shared mourning that creates tension in his marriage. He writes of frustration and confusion and a sense of guilt, regretting that he helped his son move into the house where he lived his final days, or that he ever moved to Florida.

Dreams are a recurring theme. McCall writes of seeing Ryan in his sleep, then waking, often close to 3:02 a.m., the precise time when his son lost his life.

Amid his struggles through grief, there are also updates on the police investigation, and scenes from the courtroom. McCall became close with Sal Augeri, the Tampa police detective who led the investigation into Ryan’s murder and ultimately identified his killer.

At about the time of the 2015 trial, it was suggested that McCall should publish his journals. In June 2017, he started working to make it happen. Having never taken on such a project, he worked with a professional writer to polish his words. He talked with publishers, eventually connecting with Newman Springs Publishing, a New Jersey company.

When he re-read what he had written, McCall said he noticed change, signs of progress evident only in hindsight. They were the little moments — a fishing jaunt with his surviving son, his daughter’s wedding.

“I was getting better,” he said. “But I never realized I was getting better.”

Although the pain is always there, it is not as heavy as it once was, McCall said.

The book is at once a diary and a memoir. But it is also a guide for other grieving families trying to navigate the uncertainty that follows an unexpected loss. This was one of McCall’s aims.

Since it went to print earlier this year, he said, he has heard from other parents who have lost children, who find reassurance in knowing that they’re not alone.

For the Love of Family

How a knock at the door changed everything

By Kevin C. McCall

Newman Springs Publishing, Inc.

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