CEDAR KEY, Fla. (WCJB)- On the evening before New Year's Eve, a hangout with friends turned into an argument that ended with 27-year old Matthew Whyte being charged for the murder of 55-year-old Thomas Rafferty. It was the first murder in more than 3 decades on Cedar Key and today residents remember the victim, a friend who they describe as part of the Cedar Key family.
Thomas Rafferty came to Cedar Key in 2011 with no close family and no money but quickly made friends across the island.
Nancy Beckham, a lifelong Cedar Key resident says the first time she met Rafferty, he helped her hold a bag of oysters. At the time he was a total stranger, but she says the action was as if he had known her.
Thomas Rafferty was known to lend a helping hand across the island. One of his closest relationships on the island was with Alice Phillips - Oakley, the owner of Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast where Thomas Rafferty worked. "Tommy was my handyman, fix it, man, everything for 8 years", Alice explains. Together they helped repair and maintain the bed and breakfast, while Alice dreamed up creations for her business, Thomas builds them from the practical (tables, stairs, patios, fences, and a pond) to the quirky (a whimsical house, and a big flamingo).
Alice and Thomas became close friends. "He became part of the family. My daughter would refer to him as my older son", Alice recalls.
Now when Alice looks in her yard she remembers Thomas. Alice along with other friends put together Thomas Rafferty's memorial service on Tuesday afternoon.
MaryEllen Szper tells us the tragic death " was like a kick in the gut to the entire village"
The service was private and personal, but we are told there were witnesses of the tragic night at the memorial. The island is also keeping the mother of Matthew Whyte, the man accused of killing Rafferty, in their thoughts. Whyte's mother is also a resident of the island and is described by MaryEllen Szper as "suffering" and "the most tortured soul on the island". Even in tough times, Cedar Key pulls together.
As islanders remember Thomas Rafferty for his bike which zipped down Main Street each day, they also recall him as a person who arrived in Cedar Key with nothing but became part of their family.