Six days. Three shootings. Three deaths.
And a wider community left grappling with loss and grief.
“It’s not fair,” Constance Dunbar said quietly, after burying her high school sweetheart, father of her two young children.
“Not by any means. Not at all,” she said. “My kids got to grow up without their daddy.”
Three people were killed in a spate of shootings in the Roanoke Valley over a week in September — part of a rise in gun violence being seen around the nation.
The circumstances, times and locations all differ widely. But all share a common thread of heartache that now confronts the families and friends left behind.
“It hurts,” said Brittany Richardson, whose cousin, whom she considered a brother, was shot Sept. 12 in the street near a sports lounge in Norwich in Southwest Roanoke.
Friends said Derrick Bostick, 35, had tried to intercede in a fight when someone opened fire. He was struck at least twice as people began screaming and scattering.
He died two days later at the hospital.
“It’s surreal, still,” Richardson said days later. Bostick, who went by Bruce, was remembered by family and friends as someone who was always in their corner.
When Richardson wanted to turn her talent for home cooking into a business, B&M’s Grill, he was her biggest cheerleader.
When Kehana James’s mother got sick this year, he was there every day, helping shoulder her troubles.
He was someone who created family, not just friends but those deeper connections, around him, said Courtney Bonds, a friend of Bostick’s since childhood.
“He was my brother,” she said. “I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss his smile. I used to tell him everything.”
The stunning loss of that friend, that brother, has been difficult to process, she added.
“I just want to know why,” Bonds said. “Why? Why did a person feel the need to take someone else’s life?”
• • •
These are the other victims of violence. The mothers, fathers, children and friends who must find a way to go on and rebuild around loss.
The trajectory of that grief can take years to navigate as loved ones work to heal. Not forgetting — never forgetting. But learning to negotiate the new terrain placed before them.
“It’s with you for life. I’m a witness to that,” said Rita Joyce of Roanoke, who lost her son to gunfire in 2004 and for years afterward banded together with other mothers to reach out to families bereaved by violence.
“What happens with these crimes is not just the now,” she said. “It’s the later. The impact.”
The later has been among the many things weighing on Constance Dunbar’s mind. When her children — a daughter just shy of her second birthday and a son who just reached 1 month — are older how will she explain what happened to their father?
She’s not sure she can find the right words. She’s still working to understand it herself.
“I go to bed every night thinking he’s going to be there in the morning,” she said.
Dontae Taylor, 22, used to wake up in the morning as a bundle of energy, dancing in the living room with little D’Layah, their daughter, she said.
He’d do anything to coax a smile out of someone. “You’d end up smiling just seeing him smile,” said William Dudley, one of his closest friends.
When he found out he was going to be a dad, he got a job in retail and walked miles each day to get to it. He called up Dudley and wanted to repay $20 he had borrowed months earlier. A family man needed to take care of his debts, he reasoned.
“I told him I don’t want your money,” he said. “But most people wouldn’t even have brought it up. … He was such a good dude.”
“When I heard what happened,” Dudley said, “my heart just shattered. Everything in me shattered.”
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, a Friday, Taylor was walking to a store with a friend by his home in Southeast Roanoke when a gunshot rang out, striking him in the head.
The shot was so sudden his friend would later tell Dunbar he couldn’t process what was happening as Taylor fell to the ground.
Witnesses reported seeing someone fleeing afterward, according to a search warrant. Dunbar believes Taylor, who died at the hospital the following Sunday, wasn’t the intended target of the gunfire.
“He never did anything to nobody,” she said.
• • •
The process of grieving follows no set path. Its bends and turns affect those navigating it differently.
To grieve is both normal and abnormal. It is both painful and a part of healing.
In the days after she lost her brother, LaCresha Brown felt like she was moving through a fog. She busied herself with helping with plans for his memorial and organizing a candlelight vigil that would bring dozens out to a neighborhood park.
But the weight of what had happened had not yet reached her.
“I definitely feel numb,” she said at the time. “It’s a lot to take in.”
Carlos Jones, 29, was shot and killed Sept. 16 outside an apartment complex in Vinton where he sometimes lived, relatives said.
Vinton police have released few details about the circumstances of the shooting. Persons of interest have been identified and interviewed, officials said, but the investigation remains ongoing. Jones’ family is waiting to learn more.
In the twilight hours of a weekend evening shortly after the shooting, family and friends came together to remember Jones.
They listened to recordings of the music he’d left behind, hip hop tracks he’d crafted, something he hoped to one day use to forge a career.
They released balloons hued in green and black, his favorite colors. They watched over his two young sons, age 5. They shared their pain that Jones, nicknamed Los, was not with them.
“I’m trying to be strong,” said his mother, Monica Quarles. “As the days go, it gets harder and harder.”
Brown handed out buttons bearing images from family photos of Jones. She helped carefully arrange dozens of tealight candles set out for the vigil.
It’s hard in these early days to see what lies ahead, she said, how his loss will change her, will change her family.
But that it will change them all seems certain.
“We loved him,” she said. “This is going to forever be in the back of my mind.”
• • •
New messages still sometimes pop into Dontae Taylor’s social media. Words of love and remembrance from people trying to reach out across the ether and let him know he is not forgotten.
Dunbar takes in the notifications but doesn’t open the messages. She worries it’d be a painful surprise for people to get an alert that Taylor read their tributes.
But there is a comfort to just knowing that they’re there. And Dudley said he believes Taylor does know when people think of him.
“He’ll always be able to hear us,” he said.
Memories, community, connection. Those are guideposts many cited as they work to find a way forward.
For Rita Joyce, her faith and her family helped her process her sorrow, as did the deep support she was able to find and to share through the advocacy group, FEDUP, that she would co-found to help other families victimized by violence.
There were still hard days. Four years after losing her son, she sought grief counseling, realizing she needed to add to her network of support.
Up until then, she said, she had kept herself so busy, always on the move. “I wasn’t feeling what I needed to feel. Then, wham, one day I started feeling it and feeling that pain was just overwhelming.”
“I look back on it all now and think how in the world did I get through it. I go back to my faith and my belief.”
There are moments still when the loss of her son can feel fresh. His birthday. His children’s graduations. The birth of his first grandchild.
Milestones he should have been able to share in. Moments that were taken from him and those around.
“Families are left without a loved one because of these crimes,” Joyce said. “If people could really see the impact of what they do, in the now and the later, maybe that would make them think, you know, we’ve got to stop this. Because this is crazy.”
In the days after Bruce Bostick was killed, his cousin’s restaurant, B&M’s Grill, sat dark as the family focused on supporting one another.
And the first time it reopened its doors it was for family and for friends who gathered together to break bread after Bostick’s memorial service. They shared stories. They shared laughter and sorrow. They called for an end to the rising violence.
“It’s got to stop,” said William Wright, a close friend of Bostick’s since their teen years. “People are getting hurt over nothing.”
That hurt was shared by all those gathered that day. Bostick leaves behind his mother, a young daughter who was soon turning 4 and a host of other family and friends.
A 51-year-old Roanoke man has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in his death. The cases of Taylor and Jones remain under investigation.
Looking over her restaurant that day, Richardson, Bostick’s cousin, said she was comforted to be with others, celebrating Bostick and what he had brought to each of their lives.
He would have been happy to see them all together, she said. And together, they’ll make it through what comes next.
“That’s what he would want,” she said. “He was always right there for us, supporting us, in everything we did.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.