Brendan McGee was murdered less than a day after he saw his mother for the last time. Carolyn McGee came to deliver good news to her 23-year-old son, but they ended up arguing -- something that occurred a lot during Brendan's short-lived formative years.
She traveled to Brendan's new Soldotna home and told her son he could still pay off his student loans. He only had to pay $3,000.
Brendan sat atop an old school bus on the property, lounging beside a little dog that barked as Carolyn approached. He had created a barrier around the bus using sawhorses and random objects.
"For three grand ... let them come find me," Brendan said.
He was initially in a good mood, Carolyn recalled, excited by his completed project at the new home.
Brendan's spirit tore, however, during the last couple years of his life. A heroin habit followed by methamphetamine use kept his psyche on edge; Brendan's thoughts of suicide kept Carolyn's emotions on edge.
Following their argument about a girl Carolyn walked down the gravel driveway of the property. She entered her friend's vehicle and uttered an unintentional premonition, "I hope they don't find my son dead on this property one of these days."
* * *
Lyle Ludvick, whose previous arrests put him on local law enforcement's radar, shot Brendan McGee over a $500 payment for a gun, according to police reports. Friends and family said they believe it was a revenge killing.
The 44-year-old Soldotna man shot Brendan in the head with a shotgun at close range.
On Jan. 12, Ludvick pleaded guilty to a single, reduced charge of manslaughter. His original charges included two counts of second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, third-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence.
The plea agreement frustrated Brendan's family.
Kevin McGee, Brendan's younger brother, said Ludvick intended to kill his brother.
"It was premeditated," he said outside the courtroom after the change of plea hearing. "He went there with a shotgun, and he knew what he was doing. I don't see how someone can shoot somebody in the face and only get seven years."
After multiple delays, Ludvick's sentencing is set for July 16 at the Kenai Courthouse.
* * *
Brendan's behavior diminished rapidly during the last year of his life, Carolyn said. She remembers, however, a boy full of wonder and hope. He flourished at a young age.
Born in Boston on Sept. 30, 1987, Brendan displayed a limitless curiosity, a trait that stayed with the young man throughout his life.
One of Carolyn's earliest memories of her son was his fixation on a plush monkey he received for Christmas. For weeks, Brendan rode his bicycle with the monkey hanging from his handlebars.
Years later, he became obsessed with the Titanic. He collected books on the historic passenger liner, watched the James Cameron movie many times, even had his younger sister, Sarah, memorize and sing "My Heart Will Go On."
Lining the walls of Carolyn's small apartment in Kenai are pictures of Brendan, as well as drawings by her son.
She pulled a pencil sketch drawn on manila-colored paper from a scrapbook. The drawing depicts throngs of struggling passengers running for their lives as the boat sinks. Brendan's signature is written on the drawing's lower-right corner.
"He would draw such detailed pictures, it was crazy," Carolyn said. "He was an artist; he could look at anything and draw it. Even when he was a little toddler, in the car, with a little piece of paper and a pen."
His creativity went beyond drawings, sometimes in mischievous ways. A picture on a shelf in Carolyn's living room shows Brendan holding up a fistful of dollar bills. The money is fake, of course, as Brendan used a computer to print some immediate riches. He was 14.
Brendan joined a band called "Burning Bush" when he was 16. Some loose notebook papers titled "Words to awful songs" occupy Carolyn's scrapbook.
The list of creative output goes on, stretching past Brendan's short stint in the military. He ended up going AWOL -- he refused to return to a life of service despite inevitable criminal charges. A private investigator ran around the Kenai Peninsula chasing Brendan for some time, Carolyn said, but the matter was eventually settled. The young man then sought other distractions.
* * *
He attended AVTEC's web development program and earned the most certificates out of all his classmates, Carolyn said.
"Every certificate in the program, he got it," she said. "He was like the poster child for grant funding."
Putting his new computer skills to use, Brendan designed the website for a local tattoo parlor, "In the Skin Tattoos" in Seward. He also traded his time and effort for some free ink.
Other websites designed by Brendan include a local bed and breakfast, as well as Soldotna-based Alaska Seafoods.
A newfound fixation dimmed that bright spot in Brendan's maturation. A fellow student at AVTEC introduced Brendan to heroin.
Despite his use of the deadly drug, Brendan obtained steady work with the state through the Forestry Service and the Department of Fish and Game.
Co-workers respected Brendan's intelligence, and his work ethic and a few good references landed him a job with the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, or EVOSTC.
While working for EVOSTC and living in Anchorage, Brendan gained the same level of respect from new co-workers.
Many who worked alongside Brendan wrote victim impact statements to be read during Ludvick's sentencing. All of the statements mention Brendan's creativity and forward thinking.
The trustee council's Administrative Manager Linda Kilbourne began working with Brendan in February 2009. She said in her statement that a career with computers was ideal for him.
"If he didn't know how to resolve a computer problem, he researched it until he could," she wrote. "He was up to any task you gave him, and did so well."
He was friendly, smart and personable, she added.
"Brendan was a bright young man," said Elise Hsieh, the trustee council's executive director. "In particular, he was very creative and talented and did a fine job on our website and responding to a myriad of computer support needs in our office."
The former coworkers pronounce at the end of their statements that Brendan's potential was cut short.
* * *
Unknown to his supervisors, Brendan struggled with depression and addiction.
"He was wicked suicidal," Carolyn said.
She and her mother drove to Anchorage one weekend because of a troubling phone call from her son.
He admitted his addiction to heroin during another phone call, Carolyn said. At first, he lied and denied the accusations. He called back minutes later and gave confession.
For those reasons and more, Brendan resigned, in good standing, from his position at the trustee council and returned to the Peninsula.
In the process, he gave up one habit for another.
"He said, 'I got off the brown, I just used meth to do it, and it worked just a little too good,'" Carolyn said.
Brendan lacked the ability to deal with personal torment, and that's one of the reasons he turned to drugs, she said.
His angst is left behind in journal entries and a goodbye letter (Carolyn found the letter at Brendan's new home sometime after his death; why her son wrote the letter remains a mystery).
He knew he was smart; his troubles stemmed from how to use those smarts.
A journal entry gives a glimpse of such thoughts. Carolyn read the entry aloud in her living room with a familiarity that hinted she had done so many times.
"I think there's a decent portion of the population, especially my 'generation,' that pathetically lag behind and act dumb simply for no other reason than it's easier that way God (expletive)," Brendan wrote. "Ignorance is bliss."
The goodbye letter is more sentimental in its prose, as he apologizes to his mother for his actions during "recent years."
"All I can say is that I am really sorry," he wrote. "No matter what you think, I really didn't enjoy any of it."
"He thinks that I wasn't proud of him," Carolyn said. "I can't stand it. I was very proud of him."
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.