MANATEE — Like his father before him, Calvin Briles is well on his way to becoming a doctor. But his mother Kathleen will not see the day he graduates — a reality that cuts at her son.
Calvin, his brother Curtis and sister Kristin Venema had no bigger force in their lives than their mother’s pride.
That was ripped from their lives six months ago, when Calvin’s father — well-known Palmetto Dr. James Briles — found Kathleen Briles bound and beaten to death on the living room floor where the children grew up.
The sorrow still engulfs the family.
“I have thought about that day when I graduate, and that she won’t be there,” Calvin Briles said Thursday, fighting back tears. “It is like losing your biggest fan.”
For the first time since his mother died, Calvin, 25, spoke to the Bradenton Herald in an interview about the pain his family has suffered.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives say on Aug. 3, 2009, accused serial home invasion and rape suspect Delmer Smith III killed Kathleen Briles, bludgeoning her to death with a sewing machine, before robbing the Briles’ Terra Ceia home.
On the day his mother was killed, Calvin Briles had planned to go to his parents’ home for an early dinner. The busy medical student tried to put in a call to confirm the dinner, but his phone didn’t work, so he went to his home first.
“I just thought I would call her later. I mowed my lawn, and then started studying with a friend,” he said. “I am not good at keeping up with my phone sometimes, so when I looked at it later I saw something like 16 missed calls from my father.
“I knew something was wrong.”
Calvin called Dr. Briles, not knowing his father had already made the horrifying discovery of his wife.
“He said, ‘Something terrible has happened. You have to come over now,’” Calvin Briles recalled.
Driving over, his mind raced until he reached the house and was met by a sea of blue emergency lights flashing in the night. He found his father sitting on a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office patrol car crying, covered in sweat. He learned the terrible news and sat with his father in shock.
Calvin Briles then took on the task of telling his sister and brother. Kristen had been to a concert and rushed to the scene; telling their brother Curtis proved more difficult.
Curtis Briles, 22, had already been to Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army, and was stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., preparing to leave for a second tour of duty. The memory of trying to get word to his brother still brings tears to Calvin’s eyes.
“It is not like you can get someone off a base easy, so I had no idea how to tell him. I didn’t want to tell him and have him sitting there for six hours alone waiting to get out,” he said.
Eventually, sheriff’s victim’s advocates helped Calvin Briles notify the American Red Cross, who got the paperwork in line to have his brother released from base before he was told of his mother’s killing.
“I remember the day second by second,” Calvin Briles said. “We all finally got together, friends and family starting coming over. We set up a room for my father in my house and left the light on. He didn’t turn it off all night. I finally slept, but I don’t know when.”
Calvin Briles recalled the last time he saw his mother, two days before she was murdered. He had gone to see his parents, as he tried to do weekly. Dr. Briles was in the back yard working as he liked to do, but his mother had gone out. He helped his father with the yard work until she arrived. She showed up with a new hairdo.
“I told her it was new and I needed to get used to it,” Calvin Briles said. “But my dad said right away she looked beautiful. I left and didn’t get a chance to hug or kiss her. We had the dinner planned, so I figured I would just be back then.”
Calvin, Curtis and Kristen would never again see their mother alive. Curtis Briles has since returned to Iraq for a second tour.
“The Army said he didn’t have to go, but Curtis said Mom always told us to ‘get things done,’ so that is what he was going to do,” Calvin said. “It’s what we’re all trying to do.”
But it is hard, because the memories are so vivid, he said, like the time his mother took over coaching his soccer team when no one else would take on the job. It was a bit of an embarrassment for a 12-year-old then, but not now.
“She stepped up for us, and the next thing you know she was running up and down the sideline with us. She would get on the referees if she had to,” he said. “It’s funny, just in the last few years I really started to see in her that she got life, she knew who she was. I started a letter telling her how proud I was of her.
“But I didn’t get a chance to give it to her.”