About 65 people gathered at the community room at Shadowood Condominiums Wednesday, Dec. 7, to mourn the loss of 19-year-old Justin M. Carter, who was shot and killed the day before Thanksgiving.
Family, friends and community leaders participated in a candlelight vigil, which demonstrated the community’s unity against crime and violence.
At around 6:15 p.m., people lit their candles outside the Shadowood community room and then walked for about 20 minutes on a cold night to the site where Carter was killed behind Winterthur Apartments.
Before the vigil, Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer, South Lakes High School Principal Bruce Butler, and several neighbors spoke out about Carter’s death.
“I’m saddened to have to meet you tonight on these terms,” said Hudgins. “We come together this evening for the family and we come together for the community to reject violations of anyone in any form.”
THE ENTIRE RESTON community, Hudgins said, has been affected by Carter’s death. “As a community, we have a sense of grieving for the family,” said Hudgins, who added that only as a community working together can future violence be prevented.
“We, as a community, should never become complacent,” said Rohrer. “One murder is one too many.” Rohrer also praised Debbie O’Brien, Carter’s mother, for her efforts to unite the community against violence.
“One person, like Ms. O’Brien, can make a difference,” said Rohrer. “We can choose hope over fear, acceptance over intolerance, and commit to building safer communities. Violence is not the answer.”
Carter attended South Lakes High School from 2000 to 2003, when Butler was an assistant principal. Butler remembered Carter as a “kind, young man with a smile a mile wide.”
After Hudgins and Rohrer spoke, many neighbors offered personal testimonies about their relationship with Carter.
A friend of Carter’s, Frank Patterson, 31, said he was supposed to see Carter the evening of the shooting. “It pains me to see a loss like this,” said Patterson. “It’s killing me inside.”
Patterson, who said the shooting was something that could have been avoided, made an impassioned plea to the participants of the vigil. “It takes a community to raise a child. This is our responsibility — we all need to step up to the plate,” said Patterson. “Everybody has potential.”
WITH HEAVY HEARTS, people walked quietly with candlelight guiding their way through the wooded paths that connect Shadowood and Winterthur Apartments. When people reached the site of the shooting, Carter’s grandmother, Malia Gray Richards, cried out to Carter. “Oh, Justin, oh, Justin,” said Richards.
After several minutes of silence, people began laying their candles down in honor of Carter. “I love all of you,” said O’Brien. “Reston is a small community. Let’s heal our community together.”
At the end of the vigil, a prayer was offered: “Through our pain and loss, we ask that something can be nurtured and grow.”
Patterson echoed the prayer. “I don’t want anybody leaving here sad and depressed because that wouldn’t do Justin justice,” he said. “Leave with joy in your heart because that’s how Justin would have wanted to be remembered. In our hearts, Justin is still burning like all these candles.”
According to police, Carter was shot and killed on Wednesday, Nov. 23, around 1:49 p.m., during an argument with Allen J. Anderson, 19, of Lorton. The same day of the shooting, police arrested Anderson and charged him with first-degree murder for Carter’s death, said a police report. The circumstances surrounding Carter’s death are still being investigated.
Carter lived at Shadowood Condominiums in Reston with his mother and three siblings, Malia, 18; Miles, 8; and Emmanuel, 2. Carter, who was born Jan. 3, 1986 in Lithonia, Ga., attended Lake Anne Elementary School and Langston Hughes Middle School. He also attended South Lakes High School for three years.