HUTTONSVILLE - Gathered around a small kitchen table, Kevin and Stacy White longingly gaze at the photos strewn about. Each picture tells a story of its own, many of which bring back a bevy of fond memories and, on occasion, a flood of tears.
The Whites have lived a nightmare - literally - for the past year. Their son, Dustin, was fatally stabbed a year ago today at a Tygarts Valley High School football game.
Thomas Chevy Vas, now 18, was arrested immediately following the incident and was subsequently indicted on murder charges on Feb. 26.
Kevin and Stacy White hold a memorial plaque for their son, Dustin, who was killed a year ago today at a Tygarts Valley High School football game. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Matthew Burdette)
Since that fateful night, the White family, including four other children, has spent countless hours grappling with the tragedy, trying to make some sense of an event that shocked and saddened this small, close-knit community.
The only measure of comfort the family holds onto these days, though, is the thought that Dusty, as he was affectionately known, touched so many lives in his short 17 years.
"He never knew a stranger," Kevin said. "Dustin was more or less a country boy. He was a good boy. He grew up poor, but he was just an all-around good kid. My son really made me proud."
"I never would have thought that something like this would happen at a school house - at a football game," Kevin added. "Sometimes I just don't care if I live or die. This has been extremely difficult and has changed all our lives."
While the pain remains fresh, the Whites have solace in the memories and life lessons Dustin left behind.
Some of his father's fondest recollections are of hunting and fishing outings, which were practically a daily occurrence.
"He was a hunter. He was a fisherman," Kevin said. "He was starting to be a good little mechanic, too. Dustin and his brothers were really close. He and his brother, Brandon, were particularly close. There was never a dull moment around here with those two."
Dull moments were, indeed, a rarity, especially when it came to the great outdoors.
Not long before his death, Dusty managed to bag a 186-pound black bear on Cheat Mountain. The animal, which has been stuffed and mounted, sits as a makeshift memorial in the family's living room, along with a host of other hunting and fishing trophies.
"He could catch the fish out of a mud hole, after you walked through it," Kevin said. "He was that good."
Good doesn't seem to come close to describing Dustin, especially when it came to his generosity.
"Dustin was the type of boy if you and him were down along the river and you didn't even know him, if he caught six fish and you didn't catch any, he would have given you those six fish," Kevin said. "He would actually give them to you. He was never stingy with anything."
Dustin was especially generous with his time. He spent countless hours working through the FFA to teach others about the outdoors he so loved. He taught hosts of youngsters the art of ginsenging, as well as lessons on how to lure in the big catch.
"He really liked the FFA," Stacy said. They made him president of fishing day. He loved teaching people about ginseng and how to fish. It gave him a lot of joy. He was just really generous and caring."
Dustin was not only generous and caring, but he also had the unique ability to light up a room and put people at ease.
"If you felt bad that day, you wouldn't for long," Kevin said. "When he got there, he would make you feel better. He always had a crooked smile on his face and the biggest set of eyes you have ever seen in your life. He would light your day up."
Even though Dustin is gone, his energy and memory are living on. Dustin's friends still stop by to visit the Whites on occasion, and one friend, T.J. Scott, is making sure his friend isn't forgotten.
Scott approached Tygarts Valley High School officials about posthumously awarding Dustin, who would have been a senior this school year, his diploma.
"T.J. made the suggestion to the school," Kevin said. "He is going to walk across the stage in his name at graduation."
The community hasn't forgotten Dustin's passing either. A vigil is scheduled for tonight in the parking lot of George Ward School. Countless family members and friends will gather at 7 p.m. - close to the time of Dustin's passing - to share memories and prayers in his honor. The public also is invited.
"He liked his school," Kevin said. "He liked Tygarts Valley. Dustin loved his family and made a difference in a lot of lives. He worried a lot about his family, too. He is well missed and things will never really be the same."
As the family continues to work though the pain of their immense loss, closure is far from around the corner. The Whites await the start of the trial connected to their son's murder.
Jury selection for the case has been moved to Jan. 7, with the trial scheduled for Jan. 8-10.
"We are past ready for justice to be served," Stacy said. "This will never be over until after the trial. Even then, it will never be over for us."
- Contact Matthew Burdette at 304-636-2121, ext. 120 or via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at IMT-Burdette.