(CNN) — The light blanket of dust covering Charles DuBose’s black cherry motorcycle belies the grandfather’s meticulous care of his prized Harley Davidson.
But he refuses to disturb the handprints and fingerprints pressed into the dust. They belong to Deshon DuBose, a 13-year-old honor roll student who loved riding on the back seat of his grandpa’s Harley and couldn’t wait until he was old enough to be up front.
But that day will never happen.
On a cold Saturday in January, Deshon spent the last night of his life roller skating with the new skates his grandfather had just bought him for Christmas. As Deshon and his friends were leaving the Cascade Family Skating rink in Atlanta, a fight broke out among another group outside, a law enforcement source told CNN.
Gunfire erupted, the source said, and the teenager was struck by two bullets never meant for him.
Deshon died the next day, ending a young life devoted to community service and shattering his dreams of becoming an engineer and also a pastor – just like his grandfather.
“The hardest part is him never becoming the man we know he could be,” said Charles DuBose, who served as Deshon’s father figure and helped raise him.
His family’s anguish is shared by a staggering number of families across the country. So far this year, more than 1,300 children and teens have been killed by gunfire in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Firearms became the No. 1 killer of US children in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, which had long been the leading cause of death among America’s youth.
“This is not a trend that should continue to go on,” said Deshon’s cousin Novella Edwards. “That’s a parent’s worst nightmare, is their child not coming home. And when his mom sends him off to go skating, you expect to get your son back the same way he went.”
Gun violence is an epidemic in the US. Here are 4 things you can do today
‘A respectful, well-mannered leader’
Despite his age, Deshon was a prolific volunteer. He hauled groceries for strangers who looked like they needed a hand and helped elderly neighbors with projects around their houses.
“Ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you how much of a respectful, well-mannered leader Deshon was (wherever) he went,” family friend Melissa Cruz wrote on a GoFundMe page benefiting the family.
“From his teachers to the parents of his friends, he was well-known and never in a negative light. He spent his afternoons at the YMCA, volunteered in the community, and was never one to shy away from helping anyone in need, whether he knew them or not.”
Indeed, Deshon’s death gripped so many in his community that the funeral home reached full capacity, his grandfather said. Some mourners had to be turned away and attended the services for him outside.
A family’s indescribable agony
Losing a child to gun violence is the kind of tragedy Charlett DuBose often had heard about in the news. She never imagined her own family would experience that same horror.
Just two months before his death, Deshon had been devastated to learn about a 12- and a 15-year-old killed by gunfire at a popular Atlanta shopping district, his mother said.
Now, the reality of losing her only son is like a nightmare that never ends.
“I do have my days … every day, nonstop, thinking about him,” Charlett DuBose said.
Even the sight of children going to school can overwhelm her with grief.
“That would break my heart … seeing the babies going to school, and my baby can’t attend school anymore,” the mother said.
Deshon excelled in school, always making the honor roll and winning awards for social studies, reading, writing and piano.
And he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“He never talked about anything else but being a pastor and an engineer,” Deshon’s mother said.
The child’s academic prowess was so strong, he joked he might go to college before his sister Maya, who’s five years older. Despite the age gap, Maya and Deshon were virtually inseparable, and she vividly recalls the day he was born:
“I see my brother and I hold my brother for the first time,” said Maya, now 18. “Ever since, I’ve been holding him. He’s been attached to everything.”
But now, Maya can’t hold Deshon in her greatest time of need – navigating life without him. She thinks about and misses him “every day, all day.” So she finds her own way of staying attached to him.
“Ever since my brother’s been gone, I’ve been in his room, sleeping in there. And I hear him saying, ‘Maya, I’m OK. I’m OK,’” she said.
Such reassurances helped give Maya the strength to graduate high school and start college on time – feats Deshon worked so hard to achieve but will never get to accomplish himself.
“I went to college first,” Maya said. “I did it for my brother.”
The most somber birthday
In a few weeks, Deshon’s family members should be celebrating his birthday. Instead, they’re at a loss about how to mark November 20; there’s no guide for how to commemorate such a first since a child’s death.
“We’re thinking about going to the cemetery to see him for his 14th birthday,” his mother said.
Deshon’s birthday usually is also the prelude to a wave of joyous family holidays – none of which will be the same again.
“This will be a harder year because that’s also the week of Thanksgiving,” Edwards said. “It’s around the holiday time. And I know from experience that a lot of the first holidays after a death so close is very hard.”
Deshon’s sister said she plans to visit her brother’s graveside for his 14th birthday.
“But after that, I might ask my mom, ‘Can I sit at the cemetery and talk to him for a minute?’ Because it still don’t feel real, having my brother gone,” Maya said.
“It’s been eight months since he’s been gone. It still don’t feel real to me.”
This article originally appeared in San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.