'He was pure': Family remembers 42-year-old shot, killed in Crestview
CRESTVIEW — The youngest of five children, Cheyenne Byerly, 24, practically grew up at her brother’s home, but now she never again will hear his “silly impressions” or see the smile he “always had on his face.”
“He was so good at talking to people when you were angry or upset. He was so good at calming you down,” Byerly said. “Making you feel loved. Everything. I won’t be able to talk to anybody the way I was able to talk to him.”
Read more about the incident:Crestview man arrested, charged with murder after Escambia deputies find dead body in trunk
The man believed to be responsible for the slaying, 37-year-old Johnny Lee Akins Jr., is accused of then taking Matthews in his vehicle to Escambia County, where the vehicle was later discovered partially on fire near a gas station.
Akins was taken into custody by Escambia County sheriff's deputies and extradited to Okaloosa County, where he is being held without bond on charges of murder and destroying evidence.
Byerly said she was asleep when the shooting occurred. Investigators arrived at the home where Matthews was allegedly shot about 2:30 a.m., and she was notified about two hours later. When she learned the news, she thought she was still dreaming.
“Honestly, I was in shock at first. I didn’t want to believe it,” Byerly said. “I thought I was dreaming and was going to wake up, but it was all real.”
Matthews, who often went by “Dewey,” was born in Miami and later moved to Holt, where he lived for more than half his life. He worked as a carpenter alongside one of his brothers building and framing houses.
But Byerly said his true passion was his family.
“His sole purpose was to provide for his family,” Byerly said. “To work for them. To make sure that his two grandbabies had everything that they wanted. He was a family man.”
Matthews never had biological children, but when he met his wife, Brandy, her two children became like his own. Matthews later had two grandchildren that became his whole world. Laila, 6, and Jaxon, 4, have been devastated by the loss, Byerly said.
“Once they were born, that was it. He loved them,” she said. “Their mom sent me a video and the oldest, it’s a recording and it’s just her talking about ‘My pawpaw was the best pawpaw in the whole world,’ and it was just so sad.”
Matthews was known for cracking jokes and putting a smile on everyone’s faces. Byerly said she never will forget how he would answer the phone in a different voice and make “silly impressions" to confuse her. But she always knew it was him.
“Honestly, he was one of the best people I think I’ve ever known in my whole life. I’m not just saying that because he was my brother,” Byerly said. “Anybody that met him, he left a good impact on their life. I just can’t believe — what happened shouldn’t have happened to anybody. He was just too nice. He wasn’t violent.”
Byerly said the loss has been difficult for her entire family because no one knows “why it happened yet.” Matthews’ siblings have been experiencing a mixture of anger and sadness, while their mother, Sandy, also has been battling COVID-19.
“Last night was the first night that I was able to sleep. I haven’t been able to eat. I get physically sick trying to eat. I know it will pass, but right now it’s so hard on us,” Byerly said. “We have people saying this and people saying other things, and it’s just causing us — it’s like we’re falling apart and this is when we need to be together.”
Her mother was at an area hospital receiving treatment for COVID-19 when she was told her son had been killed. Byerly said Matthews was her mother’s first child and she gave birth to him at a very young age.
“My poor mom,” Byerly said. “They weren’t allowing any visitors at all. She was alone through this and she was just so upset. She was trying to hold it together.”
She since has been released from the hospital, but is still recovering at home and requires oxygen.
“She’s barely hanging on,” Byerly said. “I’ve been calling her every day checking on her because I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose a child. I know she’s hurting.”
Matthews’ father-in-law created a GoFundMe page last week to help cover the cost of his cremation. As of Tuesday morning, only $1,220 of the $10,000 goal had been raised. To donate, visit https://gofund.me/5187689e.
Byerly said the family plans to hold a memorial service to celebrate Matthews' life at a later date.
“I want everyone to remember how funny he was,” she said. “I want them to remember how he was always smiling no matter how bad he was hurting on the inside and the stuff he was going through. He always smiled. He was just good. He was pure.”