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INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Bruner led a marching band, taught special-needs children, excelled as an athlete and handled heavy artillery in the Indiana National Guard — all in 34 years, before dying what police described as a hero’s death earlier this week in the Bahamas.
Bruner, who spent his youth in Indianapolis and later settled in Chicago, was in the Caribbean country in pursuit of a new career as a professional mariner after years working as a deckhand.
His sister said Friday it was one of Bruner’s most defining traits — a desire to stick up for others — that led to his death. He was shot in the neck as he tried to help a woman who was being mugged, according to Nassau police.
Sarah Brown recalled how he once came to her defense. Some kids had begun to pick on her at one of his baseball games.
“I went to the fence, tears running down my face, and screamed for Kyle,” she said. “In the middle of the game, Kyle threw down his mitt and ran over to help.
“He got them to back off. My father, later that day, stated no one could pick on Kyle’s little sister but Kyle. That’s a pretty thorough summation of our time growing up.”
The Bruner family moved to Indianapolis in the early 1980s and later moved to Fountain County, where he won recognition as both a student and an athlete at Attica High School, said his father, Rick Bruner.
He graduated from Indiana State University and later entered the Indiana Army National Guard, serving as an artillery man.
“Kyle was a unique person, but was by no means an angel. He had flaws and issues, but he could always be counted on to step up when he felt people were being victimized,” Rick Bruner said in an email to The Indianapolis Star.
“He was charismatic and made legions of friends, especially amongst the crews of the boats on which he served.”
Kyle Bruner wanted to live a life on the sea, his father said, an interest that started after he graduated from Indiana State, unable to find work in his field of physical education in Washington state. Instead, he wound up as a volunteer deckhand on a tall ship, the Lady Washington, and eventually became a senior crewman.
Then he began pursuing another passion, working with children with autism and behavioral issues in San Francisco.
“As a way to reach these children, he began using his contacts with the sailing community on the West Coast to take groups of these kids out on boats and show them how to sail,” Rick Bruner said.
Yet Kyle Bruner returned to working on ships out of New York and Los Angeles. In March he received Coast Guard certification and then accepted the position of chief mate on the Liberty Clipper, his father said.
He had been in Nassau since April 15 and was scheduled to leave with his ship to return to its summer port in Boston.
According to the Nassau Tribune, Bruner was walking with another man and two women in Nassau early Sunday when they were approached by two men demanding cash, one with a handgun.
He apparently tried to stop them from stealing one of the women’s jewelry and was shot, police told the Tribune.
Four males were to be be arraigned in court Friday in connection with his death, according to Chrislyn Skippings, public affairs and communications officer of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Bruner’s cremated remains will be returned to the U.S. on the Liberty Clipper. His ashes will be scattered on the ocean, his father said.
“He had intimated to a friend that his eventual goal was to captain his own ship that was modified to allow him to take special-needs children on board and teach them to sail and be part of a crew,” Rick Bruner said.
“He had tremendous empathy for special-needs children.”
Brown said her brother will be remembered as charmer who had a lot of girlfriends, all of whom he treated like princesses. He just didn’t want to be tied down.
“I think that’s why he loved the sea so much. It’s an old adage that the sea is a mistress,” she said.
“The sea never minded he found someone else. But when the sea came calling again, he’d come running. We often wondered if/when Kyle would ever get married. He did.
“I think I now have to consider the sea my sister-in-law.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.