Justin Carter, 19, had dreams of building his family a home. He had worked in construction in the Reston area and in Georgia where he had family.
His dreams ended the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 23 when he was shot and killed on a wooded pathway behind Winterthur Apartments, a complex near the Hunters Woods Shopping Center.
The shooting took place around 1:49 p.m. during an argument between Carter and Allen J. Anderson, 19, of Lorton, according to police. The same day of the shooting, police arrested Anderson and charged him with first-degree murder for Carter’s death, said a police report.
While the circumstances surrounding Carter’s death are still being investigated, family and friends are trying to pick up the pieces and remember Carter’s life. “He was a happy person,” said Debbie O’Brien, Carter’s mother.
Carter lived at Shadowood Condominiums in Reston with his mother and three siblings, Malia, 18, Miles, 8, and Emmanuel, 2.
He was very close to his family. “Every day he’d kiss me before I’d go to work,” said O’Brien, adding that a day rarely went by without getting a phone call from her son.
O’Brien also said that Carter and his sister, Malia, were best friends. “He always looked after her,” said O’Brien.
CARTER WAS BORN Jan. 3, 1986 in Lithonia, Ga. “He was turning 20 this January,” said O’Brien.
He attended Lake Anne Elementary School and Langston Hughes Middle School. Carter also attended South Lakes High School for three years, from 2000 to 2003, but did not graduate.
At a young age, Carter demonstrated musical talent. He played the bells in band and was in the choir at Lake Anne, said O’Brien.
“He was very well liked by classmates,” said Buffy Nicolas, Carter’s sixth-grade teacher at Dogwood Elementary. “I thought what a waste of someone who could have really made a difference.”
Nicolas, who also taught Carter’s sister, Malia, had stayed in touch with the family over the years. “No family, no person deserves that. It’s heartbreaking that he was 19.”
In the last year or so, Carter began writing poems, including one recently titled, “Home,” said O’Brien. “We’re going to try to publish it.”
EARLY LAST SATURDAY evening, O’Brien’s living room filled with family and friends, who had stopped by to pay their respects, including Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).
O’Brien said that family members in the area have kept her company the past week. “We come from a very big family,” said O’Brien, adding that many of their relatives are from Ghana and Liberia.
Carter’s death is still a shock among those who knew him. “I watched him grow up,” said Samuel Coleman, Carter’s uncle. “It seems he was on his way to making something of his life, but it was cut short.” Coleman remembers Carter as friendly and outgoing.
“His mom came first, then family,” said Lyn Caine, a friend of Carter’s mother who knew Carter for about six years. “He was very determined to get somewhere in life. He wanted to help his family.”
Caine said it’s hard to believe Carter’s gone. “He was a beautiful person, a beautiful personality,” said Caine. “It’s such a pity that this had to happen at such a young age.”
For Joshua Stokes, 18, of Reston, Carter was family. “We had a big brother-little brother relationship,” said Stokes, who remembers hanging out with Carter at the Reston Town Center and the Teen Center.
Cecilia Gantt, a close family friend of 15 years, was also visiting O’Brien last Saturday. “[Cecilia] was like an aunt to Justin,” said O’Brien.
Gantt’s two children — Cerita, 20, and Charlton, 22 — grew up with Carter. “My daughter was in class with him since elementary school.” The three of them, Gantt said, were like brothers and sisters.
“He was the most affectionate child,” said Gantt. “He couldn’t resist a good joke or an opportunity to make you laugh.”
MANY WHO knew Carter commented on his good nature. “He had an infectious smile,” said Dawn Tolbert, Carter’s cousin. “He was so caring and considerate of others. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for you.”
O’Brien said she refuses to let her son’s death be in vain. “I want positive things to come of this. The violence needs to stop,” said O’Brien. “I want to send a message of peace. Justin was a person of love. People need to know that Reston is not like this.”
The family has made T-shirts with a picture of Carter that they plan to give out to family members. On the T-shirt, Carter’s sister, Malia, wrote of Carter, “He was an Angel on Earth who grew his wings and went home. We’ll miss you.”
A candlelight vigil is set for Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at Shadowood on Castlerock Square. A viewing and tribute for Carter will be Friday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston. Carter’s funeral is on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 9 a.m. at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.