Police cast a wide net in search for Fla. deputy's killer

By Mitra Malek and Kevin Deutsch
The Palm Beach Post
POMPANO BEACH, Fla. With little more to go on than the description of a white getaway car, hundreds of law enforcement officials fanned across South Florida on Saturday, desperate to find the killer or killers of Sgt. Chris Reyka, a Broward County sheriff's deputy.

An emergency operations center in Pompano Beach typically used only during emergencies like hurricanes was transformed into the headquarters for the manhunt for whoever gunned down the 51-year-old Wellington father of four behind a Pompano Beach Walgreens early Friday morning.

On Saturday, authorities from across the region streamed into the center, where they received grids of specific areas in Broward County to patrol. By breaking the county into sections, the Broward sheriff's office plans to check every slice of it, over and over again, until the killer is found. Authorities in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are also using a grid system.

"We've got not a lot of leads at this point," Broward sheriff's spokesman Elliot Cohen said. "This is a really hard one for us."

The sheriff's office on Saturday focused on places where the suspects might hang out or where they might have ditched the long, white car with tinted windows that a security camera captured shortly after the shooting.

Reyka, who handled auto crimes as a member of the sheriff's selective enforcement team, had pulled up to the car at about 1:20 a.m. Friday to run the tag. Someone stepped out of the vehicle and fired 10 shots in rapid succession, hitting Reyka five times.

Deputies on Saturday scouted convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, gas stations, check-cashing stores, tow yards and car-storage and tow-truck businesses. More than 200 deputies are looking in Broward alone, with help from as many as 200 law enforcement personnel from other agencies. Fifty Broward sheriff's employees are running the operations center day and night.

Throughout South Florida, authorities pulled over dozens of white American-made sedans similar to the suspected getaway car, occasionally leading to arrests of people not linked to the killing.

"I hope the people getting pulled over understand," Cohen said. "We don't have a lot to go on."

The sheriff's office is getting hundreds of tips from the public on where suspects might be and their possible means of escape from the area. The reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case increased Saturday to $106,000, with $11,000 coming from private residents.

Hours after the crime-scene tape was cleared Friday, Debbie Shaham, 51, of Pompano Beach planted American flags and dozens of colorful flowers a few feet from where Reyka was slain.

"He was here to protect and to serve," she said. "We owe him something."

On Saturday, more people showed up at the Walgreens parking lot, clutching flowers, teddy bears, American flags and Bibles. They placed them at the makeshift memorial. Some scribbled messages and prayers to Reyka and his family. One poster-sized note had a message for the killer: "Not Even God Will Forgive You."

A similar scene unfolded outside Wellington's Grande Isles gated community, where Reyka lived with his wife, Kim, and four children: Sean, a Marine; Ashley, a 21-year-old lacrosse player at the University of Florida; Autumn, a sophomore at Palm Beach Central High School; and Spencer, a 13-year-old Polo Park Middle School student.

Emily Byrd and her 12-year-old son, Christopher, on Saturday afternoon tied two balloons to a sturdy light post. "Thanks for a job well done," one read.

The two knew the Reykas in passing. They'd wave to one another at the neighborhood pool or while jogging the Grand Isles streets.

Christopher, who knows the youngest Reyka through school, has been shaken by the shooting, Byrd said. He wanted to know how the family would sleep, what they would do come Christmas. Kim Reyka had been a substitute teacher for him years ago. It was Christopher who asked to add to the memorial.

Friday and Saturday, law enforcement periodically patrolled the community's entrance, making sure no one got to the family without permission.

Services for Reyka were announced Saturday. They begin Tuesday with a visitation at Forest Lawn Funeral Home North in Pompano Beach. He is to get a hero's funeral on Wednesday, with a service at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise followed by burial at the Veterans Affairs National Cemetery near Wellington.

At Wellington's St. Therese de Lisieux Catholic Church, where the Reykas were founding members, pastor Brian Lehnert launched the evening service paying tribute to Reyka. "We've lost a great man," Lehnert said. "This is a time of great sorrow and of great pain."

The Rev. Louis Guerin, a former pastor at St. Therese, on Friday said the Reykas were the kind of family everyone wants to live next door to.

"The ironic thing is whoever killed him, under different circumstances, probably would have been a beneficiary of his kindness and willingness to reach out to people," Guerin said. "Under different circumstances."

Staff writer Kelly Wolfe and staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 The Palm Beach Post

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