PALMETTO -- There were many tear-streaked faces Friday morning in the First Baptist Church of Palmetto, but none so much as Leann O'Halloran, a mother forced to say goodbye to her 18-year-old son.
The football team that was so close with Kyle O'Halloran presented his mother with orange roses at the church, each of them wrapping her in a tight hug as she cried. After the team, a crowd kept coming to offer her support.
"Why?" Leann O'Halloran asked one woman. "What am I going to do? I don't know what to do."
A coach and teacher spoke with sorrow about the student and player who would not graduate.
"Kyle is not going to have that day," Palmetto head football coach Dave Marino said as he began to sob. "And that part is hard. Why? Don't ask why. That's God's plan. It's Kyle's day today to go home."
The grieving coach spoke of his beloved player's dedication to his team and his commitment to his family as well as finding the perseverance to move on from this loss.
"Kyle did not die in vain. It is not a senseless death. It's an inspiration," Marino said. "That's what I'll take with me to be able to persevere and move forward, using Kyle as an example of how we should all live."
Visitation for Kyle O'Halloran began at 11 a.m., with about 200 people packing into the church by the time the funeral service started at 1 p.m. Most were Kyle's fellow high-school students bid
ding a final farewell to their friend. Mourners wore orange and red in addition to the traditional black clothing. Orange was Kyle's favorite color, and red was for the Palmetto High School football team.
Kyle O'Halloran was killed when he lost his grip on a moving vehicle driven by suspect Roberto Betancourt, who was charged with vehicular homicide and who is being held in the Manatee County jail without bond.
A slideshow played during the service, showing pictures of Kyle O'Halloran with his fiancee, Darrian Szabo, their daughter, Paitynn Szabo-O'Halloran, his siblings, Karissa and Kollin, his parents, Brian and Leann, and of him on the football field. The final slide was one that stated simply, "Go hard, fly high."
Many approached the casket in groups, trying to offer support to one another. Several began to sob as soon as they saw his body, a few even leaving the church to compose themselves.
O'Halloran was a senior at Palmetto High School known for his ability to make others laugh and was a fullback, offensive guard and linebacker for the Tigers football team throughout his high school career. He had a 4.0 GPA, according to Marino.
At 5 p.m. on Christmas Day, police said, Betancourt and others in the vehicle went to the O'Halloran house looking to buy marijuana and O'Halloran approached the car as it pulled into the driveway. O'Halloran gave them a small amount of marijuana, which they passed around the car to smell, according to police reports.
Betancourt then purposely began accelerating out of the driveway without paying for the drugs, and O'Halloran grabbed onto the side of the vehicle, police said. Betancourt kept speeding up, and O'Halloran lost his grip on the car about a block away from his house. Betancourt did not stop the car and O'Halloran died as a result of head trauma, according to an autopsy.
Family disputes report
Leann O'Halloran denies the report of a marijuana deal. She said her son had been wearing a gold necklace and sapphire earrings when he approached the vehicle that haven't been found, on his body or otherwise. She said she believes the three occupants of the vehicle were planning to rob them.
Palmetto police conducted a search of Betancourt's vehicle and found no personal possessions of Kyle O'Halloran, although they would not reveal whether drugs were found.
At the funeral, Palmetto football team's chaplain Todd Poppell also spoke about Kyle and how he could always count on a hug or high five from the player before he took the field.
"He made laughter part of his routine," Poppell said.
On behalf of Kyle's family, Poppell thanked those in attendance for their outpouring of love and invited them to partake in a meal with the family in the church's Fellowship Hall.
The sorrowful chaplain read a poem by an unknown author before closing the service.
"Not how did he die, but how did he live?
"Not what did he gain, but what did he give?
"These are the units to measure the worth of a man as a man, regardless of birth," he read.
"Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say, but how many were sorry when he passed away."
Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.