Home › Forums › The Forum › “Model Begged Pastor [Jim Cymbala] to Help” › Reply To: “Model Begged Pastor [Jim Cymbala] to Help”
This is the whole story:
SHE was a Yale graduate with a plan for success, a budding actress with charm and a checklist. Having landed a few small roles, an American Express advertisement and an audition for ”Sex and the City,” Lyric Benson, at 22, was on her way to what many assumed would be fame.
She left New Haven with her New York City agents already lined up. Her fiancé, Robert J. Ambrosino II, had moved their things to an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She got a job at Balthazar, a nexus of SoHo glamour. She met actors and rockers, people with pointy-toed shoes and chunky haircuts.
And with her broadening perspective, she began to feel that her relationship with Mr. Ambrosino, a decade older than she, was a cocoon she was ready to leave. She was changing. Mr. Ambrosino, on the waiting list to become a New York City firefighter, was already pretty much who he was going to be.
”She was so going places, and he so wasn’t,” said Kat Stoller, a former housemate at Yale. That was a refrain among friends of the couple last week as they sought to make sense of the stunningly violent coda to a relationship that had already disintegrated. Ms. Benson had broken off their engagement, but Mr. Ambrosino, 33, did not want to let her go. He called her repeatedly and showed up at Balthazar at closing time. And on April 24, he waited outside her apartment for her to arrive home from work, shot and killed her, then turned the gun on himself.
A week later, the couple’s friends described a young woman stepping onto the fast track as only New York allows, and an older man frustrated at being left behind. But they insisted that Bobby Ambrosino had shown no capacity for monstrous behavior. Those who had shared a house with the couple in New Haven disputed unattributed news reports that Mr. Ambrosino sold drugs. He was odd, they said, but not abusive or scary. The relationship was one that any young, ambitious woman might have been drawn into — and grown out of.
While friends from New Haven remember Mr. Ambrosino as romantic and gallant, the friends Ms. Lyric made in New York, many closer to 30 than 20, were more skeptical. Chelsea Lagos, a New York actress in her mid-20’s, said: ”The one thing that everybody would say when they met them — anytime, anyone, anywhere — was, ‘What’s she doing with him?’ She was just in a different league.”
Mr. Ambrosino and Ms. Benson had met the summer after her sophomore year at a bar in New Haven where she worked. He remembered her name and smoky voice. Months before, she had called a radio station to request a song, ”Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega, and he had answered the phone.
Her name, her voice, her style — all were memorable. A theater arts major, she sang operatic versions of hip-hop songs out of dormitory windows and once dressed all in white for days, wearing big Jackie O. sunglasses and calling people ”dahling.” She did cartwheels and somersaults. She was dependably late to Spanish, as if trying to squeeze just one more thing into an overflowing life.
From a distance, it could seem that she was trying too hard, friends said. Up close, it was clear that it was not an act. She had grown up in Kansas, the child of schoolteachers, and spent her high school years with her mother in Morocco. She spoke Arabic and French. She could belly-dance and mimic foreign accents. With her blond hair and shapely figure, she was the kind of woman one might be inclined to despise, if not for the concentrated effort required to resist her preternatural enthusiasm.
Bobby Ambrosino, from upstate New York, could not match her beauty — he had a slight frame and, in self-deprecating words recalled by a friend, ”a face like a catcher’s mitt.” But in other ways, he was a good fit for her, even if he was like no one her Yale friends had ever known.
”He was charming, he was older, he had an air of maturity, I guess,” said Caroline Duncan, another former housemate, who met Ms. Benson during a campus production of ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
”She was so worldly,” Ms. Duncan said. ”How could she be with a lacrosse player who was, like, 18 years old?”
Compared with angst-ridden, arty Yale men, Mr. Ambrosino seemed simple, said Lisa Weiser, a literature major whom Ms. Benson befriended in their freshman year. He doted on Ms. Benson and went out of his way to woo her friends, piling on compliments and picking up bar tabs. ”My impression was, ‘I don’t get it, but she’s happy, and he seems perfectly fine,’ ” Ms. Duncan said.
Mr. Ambrosino had a outsize persona, and a gaudy one. He wore a ponytail and suits straight out of ”Mean Streets,” and he introduced himself as Fast Bobby.
If there was one thing that troubled her friends, it was that none knew what he did for a living. He graduated in 1988 from Mayfield High School in Mayfield, N.Y., and in 1992 from the State University College at Plattsburgh, N.Y. His obituary in The Leader-Herald of Gloversville, N.Y., near his hometown, said he had served in the Marines and become a merchant mariner, in addition to working as a D.J. at KC101-FM near New Haven. An employee of the station who did not want to be identified said Mr. Ambrosino had been an unpaid intern. Last week a woman who answered the phone at the Ambrosino family home in Mayfield declined to comment.
After a summer of out-of-work-actressing, Ms. Benson got a job at Balthazar with Ms. Lagos’s help. About that time, Ms. Lagos said, Ms. Benson told her she was having doubts about her relationship. Among other things, Ms. Benson said that Mr. Ambrosino poked fun at her when she listened to Christian music and did not seem to support her growing interest in a church she had begun attending. (Friends disputed reports that Ms. Benson had been ”born again” or had undergone a change in religious views, saying she had been devout throughout college, and had finally found a spiritual home at the church, the predominantly black Brooklyn Tabernacle.)
But when she tried to break things off, Ms. Lagos said, he protested, asking for a chance to change. After that, he began attending church with her, and Ms. Benson seemed happier.
But the job at Balthazar, in Ms. Lagos’s opinion, was ”the beginning of the end.” Mr. Ambrosino, who had passed the firefighter test and was waiting to begin training, wanted to support her by himself. ”She was going to be out of the house,” Ms. Lagos said. ”She was going to meet other people. She was going to have her own money.”
Ms. Benson’s career was beginning. She did voice-overs for commercials and appeared in an episode of the soap opera ”All My Children.” She got a part on ”Law and Order: Criminal Intent.” She began to do things she hadn’t done in college, like cooking multicourse dinners for friends.
Mr. Ambrosino seemed to bask in her success. When the couple had a tea party to watch the soap opera segment, in which she played a lesbian love interest, he appeared in an airbrushed T-shirt that read ”Lyric” and showed her receiving an Academy Award.
But soon, in early February, Ms. Benson broke off the engagement. Most of her friends say they did not see that coming. Slowly, though, Ms. Benson confided in friends. She had struggled with the decision for a long time, she told Ms. Weiser, the Yale friend. ”Her biggest fear was how much this would destroy him,” Ms. Weiser said. But Ms. Benson told her that her fiancé had begun to undermine her seemingly unshakable confidence. When he teased her, it no longer seemed a joke.
”I think he was intimidated by how incredible she was doing,” Ms. Weiser said. ”She said: ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this at 22. I should be happier. I never felt like a weak, clumsy, funny little girl — I always felt like a strong woman.’ ”
Mr. Ambrosino put on a brave front after the breakup. He told friends that he was fine, that Ms. Benson was the one they should worry about. He was seen with other women — showing up with one at Balthazar on a night when Ms. Benson was not working, one of her friends said. He got a short haircut.
”He definitely did not seem like a person who was mourning or really distraught,” said Christine Baker, the friend who cut his hair. ”He said: ‘I really love Lyric, but she’s really young. She’s only 22.’ Almost as if she were a sister.” He told her Ms. Benson was upset that he was seeing other women. ”He just had us all fooled,” Ms. Baker said.
Ms. Benson, meanwhile, wrote out a list of her spiritual, financial and professional goals, which Ms. Weiser later found. On it, she promised to ”treat every job as if it were the one, and move on” and to ”make money only for family, not herself,” Ms. Weiser said. If Ms. Benson was upset over the breakup, her friends said, it was because she worried about Mr. Ambrosino.
”He asked her to tell everybody that he was fine,” Ms. Weiser said. ”He was obsessed with how people saw him, and he could not look vulnerable or anything that was not completely masculine.”
But he was breaking down. Friends advised her to keep her distance, and when she realized that talking to him only gave him hope, she stopped taking his calls. But that did not stop him. She was afraid she was being followed, she told Liz Oosterhuis, a Yale tennis player with a premed degree whose SoHo apartment Ms. Benson was to have moved into last Thursday.