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By JENA HOWARD CORRESPONDENT
VENICE — An unanswered question hung in the air at Assembly of God Church on Saturday where about 45 children and parents attended a memorial service for 13-year-old Nicholas Myers: Why?
Why did James Lee Myers take his father’s .22 caliber revolver and shoot young Nick three times in the head before using the same gun to end his own life with a single bullet to the brain?
“Everybody wants to know,” said JoAnn Myers, the South Venice woman who lost both a stepson and a grandson in the murder-suicide on Oct. 10. “So do we.”
“All I know is James loved Nick and Nick loved James, and they never had a problem,” said Carol Bohn of Marquand, Mo., Nick’s maternal grandmother.
“I think the old devil got ahold of him and he flipped out, because he loved Nick.”
The devil, according to those who knew James Myers, may have been depression.
Ten days after the shootings, friends, relatives and acquaintances provided glimpses of a man who had been troubled since childhood by dark moods and painful doubts.
“I really believe that he felt life was hopeless,” says Jacque Wethington, his cousin, who grew up with James when he was in Indiana, where she still lives.
Myers’ parents divorced when he was a boy. “Shipped between his mother and father,” Indiana to Florida and back again, James’ childhood was “very difficult,” says Wethington.
Both sets of parents “did as much for him as they knew how,” she says, “but it never seemed to be enough. Somehow the other three” — Myers’ sister and two brothers — “overcame all their childhood difficulties, but Jimmy never did.”
James Myers left the Indiana home of his mother and stepfather, Bonnie and James James, for Illinois and eventually moved to Florida in the late 1980s. He lived with his father and stepmother in Venice for a while, then settled into a restless life in Sarasota, where he did landscaping work and racked up a long list of forwarding addresses.
When he was 24, James Myers met and married Frances Gutierrez, and they had a son, Nicholas. Three years later, in 1993, Gutierrez filed for divorce and left Florida with their son for North Carolina and eventually for her native Missouri.
Nicholas spent summers with his father and grandparents in Venice, occasionally visiting James’ mother, Bonny James, in Indiana.
The Myerses’ divorce was finalized in 1996, and the few years immediately following seem to have been a rocky time for James Myers. He pleaded no contest to carrying a concealed weapon in 1997 and to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia in 1998. He was sentenced to six months’ probation on the concealed weapon charge and one year for the drug offense.
In 1999, Myers ended up on his cousin Jacque’s doorstep, and she took him in. “It was tough for him,” she says. “It was tough for him to find a job and keep it. I desperately wanted Jim to get on his feet.”
That summer, Nicholas Myers asked his mother if he could go live with his dad. “Fran didn’t want him to, but she let him go,” says Carol Bohn, her mother.
Nicholas joined his father in Indiana, where the boy became a cherished member of Wethington’s family. “He helped my 6-year-old son understand that sleeping in his own bed was cool,” she says. “Everyone loved Nick.”
But no one more than his father. “I can hear him saying now,” recalls Wethington: “‘Too many times parents believe that since they brought their children into this world, the children owe them.’ He did not believe that to be true. He said, ‘They did not ask to be here. We brought them here, so we owe them everything we have to give.'”
From Indiana, Myers and Nicholas returned to Florida, where once again they camped out with his father and stepmother. Soon, though, Myers found an apartment, a job at PGT Industries, and seemed to be piecing together a modest-but-stable life that revolved around his son. “Nick’s dad was struggling to put bread on the table,” said Kevin Feaster, Nick’s fifth-grade teacher at Venice Elementary School. “But what Nick wanted, Nick got. He was always well-dressed. He had the nicest skate shoes, the nicest skate shirts. He (Myers) would go without because he loved that boy.”
About a year ago, things may have begun to unravel for James Myers. He left his apartment — police reports suggest that he was evicted — and moved with Nick into the home of his younger brother, Brian, in Englewood.
Through Brian, Myers met Jennifer Schneider. Just 17, closer to Nick’s age than to his father’s, Schneider became friends with both of them.
“We didn’t hang out much at night,” Schneider remembers, but the three would pass the days at Nokomis Beach, or Caspersen, and occasionally at the Venice bowling alley.
Myers confided to Schneider within the last month of his life, and to his cousin Jacque Wethington in 1999, that he was taking medication for depression and anxiety.
He told Schneider that the drug “made him feel normal,” but Wethington suspected the medication may have been interfering with her cousin’s concentration and motor skills at work.
According to Schneider, Friday, Oct. 4, was her friend’s last day at PGT. Myers had applied for workers’ compensation. In the meantime, though, he was low on cash, raising money for cigarettes and gas — he was a heavy smoker — by buying and selling yard-sale merchandise.
It is not known whether James Myers continued to take whatever drugs he was on; his cousin remembers something like Prozac and Schneider remembers a drug called Temazapam. In either case, abrupt withdrawal can be treacherous, according to Dr. Robert Gutierrez (no relation to Frances), a physician with practices in North Port and Englewood. The consequences can range from mild — headaches, drowsiness, nausea — to the more extreme reactions of hallucinations and delirium.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, Schneider asked Myers to give her a ride in his ’85 Olds up to Bradenton, where she needed to pick up a money order a family member had wired her.
“I gave him money for cigarettes and gas and for Nick at school next week, but he didn’t want to take it,” she said. “I knew he was depressed. I thought he might just go out of town or out of state. I never thought he would hurt himself.”
She tried to reach Myers that week but the phone was never answered at his brother’s house. It was during these nights that a neighbor remembers seeing Myers pacing outside in the evening, smoking cigarettes.
A traffic-court appearance on Oct. 10 loomed large in his mind. Although he was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of driving with a suspended license, a minor offense, “I think he thought he would be going to jail or something and was afraid of leaving Nicky alone,” Wethington said.
“He didn’t want to tell the judge that he wasn’t working and didn’t have a home,” says Schneider.
Just 21 minutes before he was due in court, James Myers and his son were dead. The court had set aside five minutes for the father’s arraignment. On Saturday, Pastor Gary Gray did his best to help the mourners heal.
“Throughout the years terrible things have happened to people,” Gray said. “But God is able to turn it around and make something good come from it.”
Staff writers Earle Kimel, James Roland and Rodney Crouther contributed to this article.