Neighbors call Travolta's son 'a very loving kid'

Diana McCarty of Citra, Fla., bows her head after laying a rose at the entrance to the Jumbolair Aviation Estates where actor John Travolta lives Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009 near Ocala, Fla. Travolta and wife, Kelly Preston, returned to their Florida house with the remains of their 16-year-old son, Jett, who died at the family vacation home in Grand Bahama.

AP Photo/Phil Sandlin
Published: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 11:52 p.m.

Rich and Heidi Koepsel were in Orlando Friday when they saw the text message: Jett Travolta was dead.

"We didn't believe it," said Rich, the Travoltas' immediate neighbor in Jumbolair and owner of Sylvan Learning Centers in Ocala and other areas. They called John Travolta's manager and the Travolta home. Soon, they realized, the unthinkable was true.

"My wife and I were in tears for 10 or 15 minutes," Rich recalled. This week, back at home with national media outside their gates, they are struggling with extreme sadness. They have known the Travoltas for years and had become particularly attached to Jett.

Actually, Rich said with a slight laugh, Jett became particularly attached to Heidi.

"When he would see my wife, he would always run up to her and give her a kiss. Plant a kiss right on her cheek," Rich said. "He was a very loving kid."

He spoke Tuesday afternoon, as media gathered outside the aviation community just north of Ocala in Anthony. He spoke softly and carefully, politely declining to comment about the scene inside Jumbolair and specifics about Jett's health prior to his death. The Travoltas are friends and, naturally, he wants to protect their privacy.

"We consider them just normal neighbors," Rich said. "John and Kelly just want to be treated as another family."

Additionally, Rich noted, John Travolta and Kelly Preston simply adore their children, Ella, 8, and Jett, 16.

"You could see the love in his parents' eyes," Rich said. "You could look in [Jett's] eyes and feel the love there."

John loved to spend time with his son on the property, and Jett loved being outside, Rich said.

"John liked to take him around in some of their antique cars," Rich said. Jett also could be seen riding around in a golf cart or pedaling his three-wheeled cycle in the neighborhood. John, a pilot, also took Jett up in the family's ultralight aircraft, Rich said.

"He was just a fun-loving, great kid," Rich said, noting he and his wife bought birthday gifts for Jett each year.

"We loved him that much. His spirit will always be with us."

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