But music wasn't enough. Jay's oversize sense of adventure and desire to serve his fellow man led to an infatuation with the military. From his early teens, he trained with Lutalo, who married Aijalon in 2002. Sometimes they'd go to a shooting range together in Broward. Or they'd run and do heavy calisthenics at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah.

"It was competition," recalls Aijalon's godmother, Flora Ray. "They would run up and down a hill again and again, then do 25 pushups. It wouldn't stop until one surrendered."

At age 17, Jay visited a Navy recruiter, who said the young man would need his mom's permission to sign up. Sandra was unsure, but he begged. In December of his senior year, she relented and signed. Though Jay's talent as a trumpeter drew a scholarship offer from FAMU, he shipped off to basic training after graduating and turning 18 that summer.

Jay's mom keeps a small shrine to his memory next to the front door.
Jay's mom keeps a small shrine to his memory next to the front door.
Jay Maxwell was a star in the 265-strong Central High marching band.
Jay Maxwell was a star in the 265-strong Central High marching band.

No one in Jay's family will discuss his six-year stint in the Navy, which wouldn't provide records on his service. He wasn't, as other media outlets have reported, a Navy SEAL. But he did spend time in Bahrain and San Diego. And he served during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. "There are things we haven't told my parents," Aijalon says. "There are things I can't tell you."

In 2006, Jay retired from the Navy and briefly returned to Miami. He settled uncomfortably into domestic life. He'd had a son at age 19, and the boy looked much like his dad with close-cropped hair and a bright smile. Though Jay had split from the boy's mother and settled in with a new girlfriend from Alabama named Angel, the families remained close.

Early in 2008, Angel became pregnant, and he charted plans to buy a home. He didn't tell his mother, who was preparing to retire as an assistant principal at Richmond Heights Middle School. "It was going to be a surprise," Aijalon recalls. "He was going to say, 'Look what's in my name. You decorate it, mom.'"

Jay worked briefly as a personal trainer, but adventure beckoned again like a Siren. The handsome, buff South Floridian applied to follow his older sister's husband and guide, Lutalo, into the United Nations security force. The money, which was good, would help propel his new life.

After brief training, he shipped off to Beirut, where, according to his sister, he watched for suicide bombers who threatened a tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-Premier Rafik Hariri. It was Jay's first assignment, and it provided a taste of international intrigue.

Then one day in 2009, he received orders to pack his bags and head for Kabul. It was just a few months before critical elections would determine Afghanistan's relationship with the United States and the Muslim world. He would guard elections monitors. He would die.

Next week: Jay's murder sets off a political fight that leads to the White House.

Read "Louis Maxwell murdered by Afghan Army, Part 2."

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