A 15-year-old boy died protecting his younger sister from an intruder who broke into their home on Thursday afternoon, authorities in Florida said.
Khyler Edman was found inside his Port Charlotte home after police noticed it had been broken into while apprehending a suspicious man wandering through the neighborhood acting erratically, Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell said at a press conference Friday.
"It has been a very tough scene to deal with," he said. "It was a senseless crime."
Around 4:30 p.m., authorities responded to calls about a suspicious person and that a man with apparent stab wounds was wandering around the Starlite neighborhood in Port Charlotte, which is about 100 miles south of Tampa.
When officers arrived, the suspect, identified as 27-year-old Ryan Cole, attempted to flee. Police apprehended him about 15 minutes later.
As officers were trying to piece together what happened, they also started getting reports of several burglaries in the area and the "subject was actually positively identified at one of the burglary scenes," the sheriff said.
While they were combing through the neighborhood, authorities noticed that the doorway to one home was damaged. Inside, they found the body of Khyler Edman and his little sister, who was unharmed.
“It appears that the suspect had broken into this residence, a violent encounter ensued where we believe that the teenager was trying to protect the home and protect their younger sibling,” Prummell said. "Like I said, a violent encounter ensued and the teenager had succumbed to their injuries."
Cole, who had stab wounds on his hands and side, was taken to a hospital and then into custody.
Cole has a history of drug use and was known by authorities, the sheriff said, adding that he was currently on probation. Cole was charged with burglary, theft, and violating his parole. He is facing additional counts related to Khyler's death.
Jail records show that he has been arrested more than 20 times since 2011, five times this year alone, for crimes like drug possession, burglary, trespassing, resisting arrest, and stealing.
"We are working very closely with the State Attorney's Office to make sure that we provide the best case we can so this individual does not see the light of day again," Prummell added.
In shock and grieving, Khyler's family, friends, and members of his community have been gathering to honor the teen, who they are remembering as a hero who loved his little sister.
On a GoFundMe page set up to help the teen's family with burial expenses and finding a new home, family members wrote that Khyler "lost his life being a hero" and that the funds will help his mom and sister "get into another house so they aren’t faced with having to relive the traumatic experience over again.”
As of Tuesday evening, 1,700 people had donated $61,000.
"My son had a long life ahead of him, that was taken too soon," his mother wrote. On Facebook, next to his school picture, she posted that "a piece of my heart will forever be missing."
Khyler loved fishing, the outdoors, bumper cars, and riding bikes with his friends, according to his obituary. He was a member of his high school's National Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps and wanted to join the military after graduation.
The teen, who "was full of life," was known for his "unselfishness" and "always putting others before himself."
"Khyler will always hold the title of an awesome big brother to his siblings, especially his sister. He was kind, caring, loving, and will be missed by many," his family wrote in their tribute.
On Sunday, his family, neighbors, classmates, and members of the community gathered for a candlelit vigil outside his home. They described him to the Port Charlotte Sun as "an angel" who was trustworthy and very protective of his little sister.
“He loved that little girl so much, and when he chose her life over his, he became a man,” one of his stepsisters told the crowd, according to the paper.
“I didn’t want to believe it when I first heard about it, I really didn’t,” Sioux Anderson, one of Khyler's former classmates, told the local NBC affiliate. “When he protected his sister, he became a man that day, not a lot of people would do that.”
A memorial service for the teen will be held at the First Alliance Church in Port Charlotte on Thursday, and his family and friends will host another fundraising event to celebrate his life on Saturday.