Mark Fyke, 18, of Ontario, was slain by a 17-year-old Lake County teen moments after hanging up with his mother at a payphone in March 1996.

DAYTONA BEACH — Scott Edwards has seen the bawdiest Spring Breaks this city has ever hosted, full of public nudity, alcohol abuse and pool dives from top-floor balconies.

But 1996 was the worst Spring Break of his life and it wasn't because of wanton college students.

Something happened that was so tragic, so jarring, that it shut off an entire revenue stream and made Edwards do something he didn't think he could prepare for.

An 18-year-old Canadian was shot and killed at a payphone in Daytona Beach seconds after hanging up with his mother.

Edwards had to personally pay his respects to the hometown of a murdered teen. He had to stand before a congregation overflowing with mourners and then he had to face the teen's shattered parents.

Edwards, in some small way, helped heal an entire town 1,300 miles away — but he was powerless to spare Daytona Beach from economic damage caused by that murder. Canadians don't come to Daytona like they used to.

"That pretty much ended Canadian Spring Break," said Edwards, who manages the Daytona Beach Welcome Center, a job he also had 23 years ago. "Daytona was not the spot to come to. The big Canadian tour operators backed away from it. They just didn't come to Daytona. It shut off Canadian break like a faucet."

A troubled Lake County teen, one who had escaped from juvenile detention, crossed paths with Mark Fyke, of Belleville, Ontario, who was on vacation and was one wake up away from boarding a bus and going home. One life was ruined and another was violently taken away by that single confrontation at a beachside payphone.

The shooting

Before he hung up the phone with his mother, Fyke had a gun to his back.

The receiver was placed on the cradle and Fyke was ordered to hand over his wallet. The gun was raised and the hammer was cocked.

Fyke, 18, didn't give up what little money he had. He was shot in the head.

The shooter, John Rainey, who was 17 at the time, is serving a life sentence in prison. Two of his accomplices also served time.

News of the fatal shooting reverberated across Canada, particularly in the lakeside town of Belleville, where Fyke was a high school student.

Fyke's mother told the media she heard a commotion in the background before hearing her son tell her that he had to go.

"The most salient feature of this is the story of a boy talking to his mother. (He) knew that he faced peril and couldn't tell his mother. (He) had to hang up on his mother as he was just seconds away from being shot," said Rob Russo, now the Ottawa bureau chief of CBC, who at the time was a reporter for the Canadian Press. He covered Rainey's trial in July 1998.

The murder was newsworthy. So was Daytona's drop-off in Canadian tourism, which is still being felt.

Canadians don't come to Florida like they used to — at least not during Spring Break.

"There was a lot of concern generally about how this would affect not just Spring Break, but tourism in general," said Mark Lane, now a News-Journal columnist who was an editorial writer when the shooting took place. "There was this narrative out there that Florida was a dangerous place and this certainly reinforced that."

Fyke and dozens of his classmates were in Daytona Beach while school was out for a week.

On the night of March 15, 1996, Fyke died in the arms of his best friend. His friend used his own shirt in an attempt to stem the bleeding from Fyke's head. It was a horrifying scene for those witnesses who ran over to the payphones after hearing the gunshot.

Fyke and his friends were scheduled to board a bus the following morning and begin the 1,300-mile trip home. He had told his mother during his phone conversation with her that he was looking forward to being home. The weather in Florida hadn't been as good as he had hoped.

Canadian students used to show up en masse for Spring Break, which took place earlier in the year compared to their American counterparts. Their visit was a warmup for what Daytona would be seeing a week or so later.

"Back in '96, we were past the heydays of the late 80s and early 90s, but it was still pretty strong," Edwards said of Daytona's Spring Break crowds. "There was a heavy Canadian Spring Break presence in late February every year."

Edwards has served the same role at the welcome center for 25 years. He calls himself the "unofficial chairman of the Spring Break committee," which attracts college students to the area and books them in hotels. Before that, he managed one of the largest hotels in the city, so he was around when Daytona Beach was inundated with decadent, beer-fueled college students every March during the 1980s and early 1990s.

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Edwards didn't volunteer to go to Belleville. He was pushed into it because it was a job no one wanted. No city official stepped up, no legislator, no local law enforcement officer. The Halifax Area Advertising Authority decided to send the Spring Break chairman.

The funeral

Bill Fyke, the slain teen's father, had told the Toronto Star the day after his son's death, "The person who did this doesn't belong in this world. They think it's easy to put a Canadian in a box. But not this time, not this time."

That's who was waiting for Edwards in Belleville.

Edwards remembered the long drive from the Toronto airport to Fyke's hometown. During his two-hour commute, he listened to a news station on the radio. The only news story being played on the air was the one about the upcoming funeral of the slain teen.

Edwards remembers seeing people setting up speakers outside the Roman Catholic cathedral because of the pending overflow of people. He remembers introducing himself to a woman inside the church. She signaled over the city's police chief.

"He told me that I was not to leave his side throughout the entire service because there were some people who were very upset and they didn't need another tragedy to happen," Edwards said. "Needless to say, it put me on notice that this could be problematic."

Edwards sat near the front pew. A few people spoke, including Fyke's best friend, who couldn't finish his eulogy because his emotions were so raw. Fyke's aunt also spoke, blaming her nephew's death on American gun violence. After she was done, the priest introduced Edwards.

He stood on the altar and looked across the church. He saw a lot of angry faces.

"It was a tough room," Edward said.

He stuck to the written speech he and a colleague had prepared.

"My opening line was something like, 'I'm from Daytona and I've traveled extensively in my life, but today is the longest journey of all,'" Edwards said.

When he was done, the congregation applauded. It astonished him.

A reception was held after the funeral. It was there that Edwards met Fyke's family. He was the most apprehensive about meeting Bill Fyke, based on the quote Fyke had given to the Toronto Star, which was published in newspapers all over the world, including The News-Journal.

Edwards remembers Fyke approaching him and getting close to him. Fyke paused for a second and then embraced Edwards.

"He broke down and told me those were some of the nicest words he had ever heard anyone say about his son," Edwards said.

Edwards had a police escort to the county line. He flew out of Toronto the next day and returned to his office that same afternoon preparing for the next wave of Spring Breakers who were coming in that week.

The aftermath

Two years later, Rainey was convicted of first-degree murder. Jurors recommended life.

Last year, Rainey got a new hearing. His sentence was not reduced. He remains housed at the Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont.

Rainey's accomplices, William Schmidt and Scott Malone, who were 18 at the time of the shooting, served their prison sentences and were released in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The latter stole the gun that Rainey used in the slaying, authorities said.

"This is one of the few cases in my career as a reporter that stands out," said Joe Ditzler, a former News-Journal reporter who wrote extensively about the case. "The cold-bloodedness of it, the heartbreaking phone call with his mother, the fact they were leaving within hours."

Russo said the murder hit home for Canadians because it showed them a darker side of Florida they hadn't previously considered. They had always seen Florida as a prosperous, tropical place, he said.

The economic impact that Fyke's murder had on Daytona Beach and across Florida was felt by many in the tourism business. Russo said those in the criminal justice system had that on their minds when they prosecuted Rainey.

"They was clearly a sense that a signal needed to be sent," Russo said. "Nobody wanted to see tourism tempered because of what John Rainey had done."

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This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.