The Return of the Riordan Ring

An Unofficial Reunion Ceremony



The Backstory

What do you do after you loose something or someone special? I am learning firsthand that there is not one answer or timeline when you are faced with  dealing with the aftermath from any type of a loss. It’s whatever you want to do… Grief can occur from a death, divorce, relationship, illness, a move, loss of safety, loss of trust, loss of a job, terror, trauma, pet loss , natural disaster and the list goes on.

Since losing our only child, Justin, on February 22, 2013, (who died instantly from an undiagnosed heart condition during swim practice mere minutes after concluding a happy call with me), life as we once knew it will never be the same.   For over a year, I could not travel to far from my home in Southern California—let alone travel up to my hometown of San Francisco—the beautiful foggy city by the bay. It was just too painful.



San Francisco has held oh so many happy memories  with my parents and siblings and many fond moments that I shared with my husband,  Darrell, and Justin.  We even got married in the beautiful historic St. Paulus Church, just a mere 6 months before it burned down from a fire caused by an arsonist.








San Francisco was our “go to place “ for most holidays and vacations. Our family home was where our little budding Architect-Justin-


loved to visit his beloved Grandfather, Burl Toler; aka “Papa”.









He also loved the house, and studying the intricate design of the 1928 structure.  He also marveled at the stories my siblings shared with him of our childhood memories growing up in the Ingleside District, sliding down the steep hills on wax boards, walking to and from school sans our parents—and how we spoke to our neighbors and everyone in our school and knew where they lived—whether it be on the north or south side of Ocean Avenue or in St. Francis Woods. Justin would often say: “Mom, stop talking about it, because the world has changed and kids don’t grow up like that anymore.” He was right…

Recently, the urge finally hit me so I took to the highway and pressed the pedal to the metal for the 400-mile journey north to surround myself in the comfort and memories that still lay dormant in our home. The inside of the house was like a time capsule. It was filled with treasures that included board games (still in tack), mid-century furniture, records, turntables, books, pictures galore, and stuff from 96 years of education!! OMG! That’s right, you can do the math: six kids x 16 years of education = 96 years. Contents even included every single report card. My parents saved all of our childhood memories as our house also became a permanent storage bin when everyone moved out!!! Sound familiar?? I even found a tuition statement from St. Emydius $27/month for 6 kids, receipts from stores gone-by i.e. I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, Roos/Atkins, the Big E Emporium, Mademoiselle,City of Paris, and Getz. Now aren’t those names a real flashback?

During this weeks challenge, I uncovered lost letters, postcards, and funny pictures revealing succinctly the signs of the time. We also found random yearbooks from schools that none of us ever attended, and sports trophies with unknown names and categories that none of us ever played. So, we just assumed that these were the result of purchases our Dad probably made during his frequent hobby visits to the local thrift stores and Goodwill. We summarized that he had the good intention that someday he would meet the people whose names actually appeared on the trophies or who were pictured in the yearbooks and give them back to them???


The Ring Story

While I was chatting with my younger brother Greg, I grabbed a slightly heavy old can with a Katydid label from our fund raising days at St. Emydius Elementary school.


I was hoping not to find any remnants of aged old chocolate candy. To my surprise, inside I found, pens, cufflinks, old whistles, coins, some jewelry and a few sticky S&H Green Stamps. (trading stamps which could be redeemed for catalog items) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S&H_Green_Stamps.


I also found Greg’s St. Ignatius (SI) High School ring and then this random Riordan High School ring engraved with the initials KPC with the year 1982. I asked Greg: “Do you know anyone from Riordan who may have these initials? “He candidly smirked and said with a smile “ Hey, I did not deal with any of those Riordan boys! But, maybe it was from one of our sister Jennifer’s old flames.” He then said: “With all of these random yearbooks and trophies, Dad probably found it on one of his shopping sprees”. We laughed. I then said: “What do we do with this ring ???” Later that evening, I called my sister to inquire about the ring. She first said: “ Yes , she dated a guy with similar initials.” Then she quickly recoiled her statement and said: “ Wait a minute, I did not date any guys from Riordan only SI.” LOL


Next, I decided to enter a Face Book (FB) post on the “ I went to a Catholic School in San Francisco Group Page


This was my first posting ever in this group. “Found a Riordan 1982 school ring with initials KPC send message if you know the owner or if you are the owner.”


Within minutes ,the post was shared and within hours I was contacted by a few readers via private messaging with possible leads to the owner. Then, I received a message from the Riordan Alumni Director, Marc Rovetti. He said he had narrowed it down to three possible guys and he would get back to me ASAP. Within a few minutes he sent me the name and contact info for an alumni named Kevin Curran.

Subsequently, I sent Kevin a text message and we quickly made arrangements for the next day for “ the “unofficial ring ceremony.” As it turned out, Kevin now lived only 1.5 miles from my family home. Prior to knocking on his front door, for security reasons, I called my brother and gave him Kevin’s contact info and told him I would call him after I delivered the ring. Kevin opened up the door and as I stood outside on the porch, we introduced ourselves. But, before I passed the ring over to him he had to answer a few questions i.e.:

  1. Did you lose your ring?
  2. When did you lose it?
  3. What color was it?
  4. What is your middle name?

His answers were:

  1. Yes I did.
  2. I gave it to my girlfriend who went to Mercy and she lost it. She felt bad when she had to tell me that she did not have it anymore.
  3. He described the stone then he said it was made out of Lustrium. I asked   what is that? With a slight tear in his eyes he said: “It was all that my parents could afford at the time, it is a non-precious metal alloy it is not gold or silver”.
  1. He said his middle name is Phillip

So, since he scored 100% on the questions, I pulled out the ring from my bag and handed it to him. He beamed like he had just won the lottery.

Kevin then had a few questions for me:

  1. Where did you find it?
  2. What compelled you to contact me?

My Story

I told him that I came to town as “ therapy.” I told him that life as I once knew it changed in a flash of a second when my husband and I LOST our only child Justin a few years ago. He gasped and could barely keep his composure or the tears from really flowing. He said: “I am so sorry, can you tell me about your son?”

Justin Cartwheel w Logo

I spoke about Justin my selfless Earth angel, Renaissance Man, scholar, singer, actor, artist, Junior Olympic BUTTERFLY swimmer, underdog supporter – who repetitively since age 4 prayed, “God help us achieve world peace” – the in memoriam “most INSPIRATIONAL” student at his school’s graduation about whom over 100 of his classmates wrote their college essays – an ebullient charming child.”
He was speechless. Mid-discussion his daughter came down the stairs and he introduced us. She said that she was a senior in HS and that she was a swimmer. I showed her a picture of Justin and said that he also swam and his favorite stroke was the butterfly.

Kevin was sporting his company uniform with the logo”Construction”  imprinted. I told him that I am an engineer, and that I also do commercial construction, but I have not been to work since that dreadful day. Kevin looked at me and said: “I lost two brothers and I am still trying to grabble with this pain and trying to connect with them to make sure that they are okay on the other side.”

I told him that initially I was skeptical about the various signs that were coming into our life. So I started writing about them.

https://www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org/wordpress/ My husband and I have received so many positive nontangible gifts, and messages and love since our horrific loss that have reconfirmed that Justin is still with us. I told Kevin that the CBS2 News channel in LA won and Emmy Award about “Justins’ Story,

and I told him last week one of Justin’s elementary school classmates was in the SF Chronicle and mentioned the impact of the loss of her friend Justin.




I gave Kevin one of Justin’s cards with his infamous paintings happy to see the sun crthat he did for “extra credit” and a image of him doing the butterfly and a perfect cartwheel–  just a mere 3 weeks before he died. I shook  my head and said: “ Justin was a strong, viable 16 year old  seemingly healthy young man who died instantly. I took him to the doctors for everything… We did not have a chance to help…”

He asked me my maiden name and I told him it is “Toler”. He was not familiar with the name. I told him that the mural on the building that is just two blocks from his house—on the corner of Ocean and Junipero Serra has an image of my Dad amongst the community leaders of the past. In amazement He said;” I look at that everyday!”



He then said to me: “ I never read the paper, but yesterday, my wife shared the article about the passing of a USF football Great Bob St. Clair who was on the infamous 1951 Dons team.” He said the team did not go to a bowl game because there were two black players on the team. I told him one was my Dad. He could not believe it.


Burl Toler, Ollie Matson, John Finney 1951
Burl Toler, Ollie Matson, John Finney 1951
Bob St. Clair, Bill Hennebery, Burl Toler
Bob St. Clair, Ralph Thomas, Burl Toler, Vince Tringali





Kevin then tried to hand me money to buy a meal. I said bluntly, “I did not come here for money!” I made this effort because I am on a different mission in life. Some things matter more than others.


















“However, if you like, you can donate the funds to the foundation that we set up in Justin’s honor.”  http://www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org/.  Justin wanted to help kids who were less fortunate than he was and also to provide visual and performing art programs for the underserved school.   I then gave Kevin one of luggage tags that we gave to Justin’s 2014 graduating, classmates.


Kevin put the tag in his back pocket, and put the ring  on his “pinky finger”

IMG_4652-1and we hugged and then parted ways.

Later that night I spoke to my siblings and told them this LOST and FOUND story. Two of them knew Kevin’s girlfriend and her brothers very well and said that they went to St Emydius and even hung out at our house when they were in high school. So, maybe, she inadvertently lost it in our house 33 years ago???

We will never know how that ring found it’s way into our home. And it really does not matter. What matters most today is what may have been LOST in 1982 has now been FOUND in 2015. Kevin can proudly enjoy the weight of his ring on his finger and smile about his high school memories.


Our Story

Kevin’s last text message to me was “ Susan, I still can’t believe after all these years I got it back… Thanks again. You are a great person!!!   Susan we have to believe that we will be reunited with your son Justin, my brothers and all who have gone before us. We will be reunited in the future and that should give us hope. “



I still try and grapple daily and deal with my major unimaginable loss. I will continue to look for treasures and keep  the memoires I had with Justin present in our life and appreciate  the good childhood we had in San Francisco that was surrounded by an ethnically balanced neighborhood where everyone got along, respected each other, played and lived in the neighborhood. This simplicity and engagement has been LOST in our communities, but hopefully some of the old ways of living will somehow be FOUND so that future generations can be less selfish, and more empathetic and compassionate toward people and appreciate what matters most in life.

How do you handle a loss? I just try and continue to love this life as Justin did and live it as bravely, faithfully and cheerfully as I can as I remember him every day and try and carry his message for peace—one step at a time.  Keep life simple and say “I love you” to those in your life as often as possible.

The world is small and there is a place for everyone in it!

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Back to School – Follow the Golden Rules

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Wrote August 2013

Well, I have been dodging the back to school ads all summer and blindly tossing into the trash all of the College letters that Justin continues to received daily via the postman and my email account. Painful to say the least! This was the week from hell!!


Justin will not realize the most celebrated year of ones primary education. Some people say, “He lived more than a person who is 80 years old”, others say “He did not need to go to college because he already completed his covenant University of Life while he accomplished so many things at such a young age.” As some of this can be constituted as being true, speaking from a wounded heart, I would much rather had Justin complete many more decades on this earth thriving amongst us.


Don’t get me wrong, I want to hear about all of his friends that are going off to college, I want to hear how his classmates are handling the pressures of Senior Year. So when I ask, I really do want to know. Everyone remaining on this Earth has to continue to live and love this life.


I realized bluntly on February 22, 2013, that all of the dreams that Justin had for himself, and we had as parents were gone and that they would never be realized. In the back of my mind, I visualized us arguing about completing his essays and common applications and attending all of the things and events he is suppose to do in his Senior Year.


This week, I was informally denied access (by a parent who was not hosting the party) to a Back to School event that we were formally invited to by the school .The School was hosting a Sr. Parent event and we received a formal initiation. The day before I got a call from a “friend” who told me “ You should not come to the event, because it is not fair to the those parents who were attending since they were going to be talking about happy fun stuff” and in other words seeing a grieving parent who lost a child would put a damper on their celebration.” Furthermore, it was for the parents and the students were not going to be there and besides “Justin was no longer a part of the class!”


Can you imagine yet alone believe that this happened? Well, I can’t make this stuff up. I cordially got off the call, pulled over to the side of the road and had a major meltdown. I was in shock. In my face, the pride and joy of what my son stood for was no longer in favor for someone who wanted to party and not be confronted with this unimaginable loss. I quickly thought about one of the golden rules of my Father and that is Rule #1

“ Don’t let other people determine how you act!”


So, we went to the event. The first words out of the mouth of the new HW-School President, Rick Commons, were “ There are two people here whom we will honor and cherish as members of the H-W family always and forever and he said Darrell and Susan Carr” We were not expecting this at all. We were surrounded and applauded by all of the HW angels who gave us hugs and confirmation that they were in fact happy to see us and how this tragic loss of Justin has affected their family and livelihood too. Dads Rule # 2 “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”



Each year we did our best to prepare Justin for his upcoming back to school year. We made sure he had the adequate tools and materials and we always reassured him that we would be there to support him every step of the way. It’s so hard to imagine all the physical milestones in this life that he/we will miss out on, but I have to smile knowing that we in fact

“ Did our best, and our best was good enough” (Dad’s rule “3) to love Justin and help him to become the fine young man that he was, who now deserves all of the posthumous accolades that may come his way. If this may seem like “Too much” for some who want this all to go away then you are all welcome to your opinion. It would have been better in my mind if he were able to formally receive them while he was here on this earth.


You don’t want to imagine what our “Back to School” feels like right now when we go on campus. But one thing I am sure, is that it feels good to be greeted with a genuine embrace, a smile and reassurance that even though our baby is not physically present, that Justin will continue to live through us and that the majority of the H-W community wants us to come and that they too share in our pain, and are grateful that he graced them with his presence.


So to all of Justin’s school friends and those who are at or off to college, and to the older folks too read carefully the following: As I started to think about my thoughts for the night I went into Justin’s room. On his shelve was a book “ All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. The back of the book


“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the gradate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned:

  1. Share everything.
  2. Play fair.
  3. Don’t hit people.
  4. Put things back where you found them.
  6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  8. Wash your hands before you eat.
  9. Flush.
  10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
  12. Take a nap every afternoon.
  13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten



Justin was not perfect, and nobody really is, but as I read these I can honestly say that he did follow most of these rules. Thanks Dad for instilling in Justin and me how to deal with the treasures and pressures of life!


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This Swimmer Caught My Ear



The First Annual Justin Carr Memorial Swim Meet was held yesterday  March 2, 2014,




Yesterday, we did it. I walked the pool, I touched the water… I made the sign of the cross, I said a prayer, and thinking of my baby Justin made me smile through my tears. The HW swim team and Coach Jon Carroll and Coach Darlene Bible, embraced us. I spoke to Justin Carr World-Peace teammates, they gave me hugs, Nina walked me through the moments and the joy that Justin brought to her on that first day she met him. And Grant Nussbaum -what can I say about the friendship you had with Justin was a gift. Justin’s Art Teacher Ms. Hall designed the trophy which is a image of Justin doing the butterfly, the sun from Justin’s infamous ” happy to see the sun come up”, the triangle is synonymous with the ” renaissance man, Loyola had a special cheer for Justin, and we saw so many kids who swam with Justin on the Rose bowl club team. It did not rain much, and my girls, Portia, Nasreen, Angie, Natalie, Amber, Sharon, Cathleen, Ms. Hall, and Jeanne, all stood by my side thank you. I made it through the first annual Justin Carr swim meet. Oh, and we started out the meet with Justin singing the anthem there was not a dry eye in the stadium.


Thank you everyone. Justin, there are no more words.. Love you and miss you more.




My guardian angel Nina Avalos-Juarez

who only met my baby Justin Carr World-Peace for the first time ONE HOUR before his untimely transition sent me this gift via a FB message back in November 2013. I read it all the time because it proves to me that Justin was living his life to the fullest up until the moments right before is untimely passing. Yesterday was my first time visiting the pool and I met Nina officially for the first time to give her the biggest hug ever for sending me this GIFT. I love it when people tell me what Justin meant to them so keep in contact with me. More gifts hearing about Justin’s life (outside of our home) are very much appreciated. It helps me get through my quiet days. Nina said it was ok to post her private message she sent to me and share it with you all. Thank you Nina for finding the words…




I’m sure you are probably wondering who I am. My name is Nina Juarez. I am currently a sophomore at Harvard-Westlake. Now you’re probably wondering, “Why is this girl I have never met before messaging me?” Well the reason why I am messaging you is because I want to thank you. On February 22, 2013 I met a very special person who, little did I know, was going to change my life. His name was Justin Carr. On that day I was going to the Upper school (since I was in 9th grade then I had to take the sports shuttle) to swim practice with Coach Carroll. When we first got there Carroll told us that we were going to watch some film first. That is where I saw Justin for the first time. He was surrounded by all of his friends. He was so happy and joyful which made me so excited to get to swim with him. It was pretty much my first time swimming with the swim team since I had just finished Water Polo. Anyway, there was a little time before Carroll could get the projector up so everyone was just chatting. I remember Justin was laughing about some broken chair next to him. He was so funny and I was laughing so hard. I’m sure that that was one of the hardest times I have ever laughed. Him and Coach Carroll were also talking about this movie called Pride and also Coach Carroll was congratulating him on bringing Samuel L. Jackson to the school. Then, Coach Carroll told us that we were going to get into the pool. I remember being so excited because Justin and me were in the same lane.  I had never talked to him but he kept on making me laugh so hard and I know if we ever had the chance we would be the best of friends. He kept on joking about how cold the pool was and how he didn’t want to get in. A few minutes in they made him go into some of the faster lanes because he was way faster than al of us in the slow lane. I just told myself I would talk to him after practice no big deal. And then the unthinkable happened. I just remember telling myself “He is going to be okay, everything is fine”. And then when I got the email I could barely breathe. All I could say is “He was right there… I saw him… he was okay…. I remember how supportive everyone was on Monday. I was in Vocal Ensemble at the time and I had just finished talking to my dean so I was a little late to class. I was about to tell Ms. Burtchaell why I was late but all she did was hug me and she said while she was hugging me and crying “I love you”. I don’t know what I would do without her. She let me stay in the choir room after Vocal Ensemble, since I had a free, with the Madrigals. Ms. Burtchaell talked about Justin and how he was in Madrigals too. The Madrigals started singing a song called Voces Lucis. I have never heard the madrigals sound so beautiful and it was all for Justin. When I went to the vigil I had never seen a place so full of love and compassion. His friends sang beautiful songs for him and your Husband sang Our Father so beautifully. It inspired me to learn more about this incredible boy. When I was looking around heard his beautiful voice in the recording of Tomorrow from Annie and it’s all right. I dedicated my swim season to Justin and tried to do the best I could. When I finally learned to do the butterfly, the right way, I was overjoyed! Coach Carroll was so proud that he let me do the 50 butterfly for JV at the Championships! After school ended I decided to go to this choir camp at Idyllwild because I heard my new choral teacher, Mr. Guerrero was faculty there and a some kids from HW were going.  During this I met Adam Lange, Benny Weisman, Michelle Lee, and Landon Fadel at Idyllwild. All of them sang with Justin and always used to sing It’s all right during our breaks. I became really close with all of them. One day we where singing this song called Dawn ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn3DAJEmkQI ) our conductor starting crying. She started talking about this girl who used to sing for her and had just passed after she got Pneumonia. Immediately after this you saw all the Harvard-Westlake kids one by one starting to cry up a storm as we tried to sing it again. Benny was right in back of me and as soon as he saw me look at him and start crying and he just hugged me without saying a word as if he knew me and knew everything. We all one by one got out of out seat and went to this little stairway right next to the choir room. And we all just hugged each other and Mr. Guerrero came outside to talk us and he said “aren’t you glad you have each other?”. If I weren’t crying my face off I would have said “I am so happy to have met these people and bond with them like I have never bonded with anyone”. After this, I saw the mail about Hairspray and knew I had to audition. I worked countless hours practicing over and over my lines, songs, and dances moves. When the cast list came out and I saw Benny and I both made it, I was too happy for words. I was cast as one of Maybelle’s crew and I couldn’t be happier. I made so many friends during the time we were all practicing. As it came closer to opening night I worked I hard as I could to get everything perfect. I met with Dr. Faultus twice to go over my alto part even when he said I had it solid. When it came to opening night I was so exited and scared but I knew I had to do it for him. Each time before the performance I would hide my Justin bracelet in my pockets or under my shoe for good luck. During the last performance right before we were about to go on for “I know where I’ve Been” we all where outside and we all agreed that we had to sing the loudest and strongest we’ve ever sung it for Justin. While we were singing I Know Where I’ve Been everything finally made sense to me. From the first day I met him he’s been with me. Every time I swam he was right there cheering me on. When I was almost too scared too audition he was there with me. When I auditioned with I Know Where I’ve Been he was standing right there supporting me. And when I was on that stage he was right next to us singing with us. As I held Kennedy Green’s and Daniel Davila’s hands I felt so strong and so safe. As if nothing could tear us apart. I don’t know if you saw but everyone on that stage was crying but all of us were trying to sing as loudly and beautifully as we could through those tears. I have never felt anymore love than I felt on that stage that night. After the song Zita hugged me and I was so happy. That was the happiest night of my life so far. And it was all because of Justin.


Every heart he has touched has become a better person because of him. He showed me how to be “Big Blonde and Beautiful”, how to do the Madison, and has taught me the most important lessons of all …To love and be loved. To hug everyone as if this could be the last. To sing and dance like nobody’s watching. That you’re never fully dressed without a smile. And that being yourself is the best you, you can be. You may not remember this but when you came around and hugged me and I started crying, you didn’t say, “Who are you?” or “and why are you crying you didn’t even know him”; you said “It’s okay, It all right”. And you loved me without even knowing who I was. You and him and your husband have changed my life forever and I cannot thank you enough for that. So thank you. Thank you for hugging me. Thank you for loving me even though you didn’t know me. You and your husband were the best parents Justin could ever hope for. If I could talk to Justin just one I would thank him for letting me into his dream. Thank you, your husband and Justin for being my angels in disguise.


Love and Peace,                                                                                                  Nina Juarez (Motormouth’s Gang Member)


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Darrell, Nina and Grant
Darrell, Nina and Grant


A day interrupted when all you are trying to do is just do your job…

Written in May 2013

Have you ever realized that school bus drivers are more than just the operator of the bus?  Well, I can only speak for the two incredible drivers that Justin had for 5 years.  Both Mary Zola and Mr. G.  were priceless commodities that like most teachers cared for their students with pride and as if they were their own children? Think about it- they too spend a lot of time with our kids.  They do more than drive the bus.  Speaking about the two fabulous ones that Justin had. Mary and Mr. G knew how each kid was doing in the morning and afternoon by their demeanor, and they played interference when necessary. They would bring special treats for the students, calm down chaos and also celebrate each and every student’s birthday.


I knew early on that Justin was like the Student Ambassador on his bus. He prided himself by knowing everyone’s name and most phone numbers.  If there was an issue with a late passenger, traffic on the road, or the operation of safety mechanisms etc. on the bus Justin kept the driver aware. Once when they were in traffic and would be late for school, Justin called me and had me lead the bus around various streets to bypass all of the congestion.  Justin always invited the drivers to his theatre performances. They were thrilled of the invitation and they showed up often-bringing drivers from the other routes.


Last Friday on Justin’s birthday, I got an early morning message from his bus driver.  Mr. G. He said “I miss seeing the BMW especially today”.  You see our car was usually the first car at the stop and the bus would pull up behind us.   WITH JUSTIN NOT ON THE BUS ANYMORE, THEIR DAILY ROUTES AND EXPECTATIONS HAVE BEEN INTERRUPTED.


I thank both of these drivers for being the “best teachers” on the bus. No matter what was going on in their life, they ALWAYS said hello and goodbye to each student with a smile.  JOB WELL DONE! Every time I see a yellow bus on the road, I cannot help but think about you and Justin riding in it.


Last Sunday, Darrell and I attended All Saints Church Homecoming. This is the beautiful church where we had Justin’s Celebration of life.  The cover of the program was a world globe with the title “The Blue Green Hills of Earth” Ed Bacon ‘s sermon once again, made me think about Justin and how he lived his life.  To paraphrase Ed said: “


  • it is an ongoing journey to find a way for everyone to belong
  • Even though Jesus had religious conflicts he did not exclude anyone
  • The way love works is that you have to refuse to exclude and include the excluders
  • It can be arduous task to  see that everyone belongs and is included
  • a sense of belonging is finding your place”


Of course, while listening to the wonderful songs sung by the senior and children’s choirs, I tried hard to somehow hear Justin’s voice ring out from the alter.  When they belted out the African American Spiritual, “Amazing Grace”, I could not help but remember that this was the song all of the people in the parking lot at the hospital sang to Justin as they drove him away.


When they sang, “ Let us break bread together” I looked at Darrell and I said: We used to sing this song when I went to St. Emydius in San Francisco. I am the first to say that I cannot sing, but I sure remember this one and I sang every word “ Let us break bread together on our knees, Let us break bread together on our knees, When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.”  That’s what I say every day…


But when I heard the song that the children’s choir was sang  “Amani” The Swahili derivation means ‘harmony, peace ‘I fell out because the male soloist sounded like Justin. The words to the song were “ Peace. We are singing our song. This is our song of peace.” As we left the church, I felt rejuvenated and happy and I knew that Justin was somehow trying to speak to me. The church did their job that day with all of their clear messages of peace and inclusion.


Upon leaving the church grounds we ran into a parent and his 11th grade son who had attended elementary school with Justin. We had not seen them in more than five years or so.  Since it is hard for some to find the words when they do bump into us, they did manage to verbally express their condolences.  Subsequently, I in turn asked the young man about school. Less than two sentences later his Dad said

“  Susan, a few of the parents from our old school were just speaking about you the other day.  Since you know so much about planning for the college process, it would be great for you to give us a seminar on how to prepare our current 11th grade students!”   I guess Justin’s Playbill is being reviewed and studied by many these days.  I must say that what Justin did in his life was from pure passion and not just manufactured options to try and get him into a top school. WITH THIS COMMENT, MY SEEMINGLY GOOD DAY IN CHURCH WAS SLIGHTLY INTERRUPTED!!   I guess the word is out that I have a lot of idle time, ready to take on work????? I can’t make this up!!!



On Tuesday evening within an hour span I was faced with a triple threat, I deleted letters from colleges from my email, and tossed out hard letters and flyers from 6 colleges. What through me over the edge was when I answered the phone and the gentleman on the other end said, “ Hi may I speak to Justin, I am calling from a _____ college.  Before he could continue on, I had to break the sad news.  The man was just trying TO DO HIS JOB and invite perspective students to meet and greet their Admissions teams.  The aftermath of me telling him about the demise of Justin left the recruiter speechless, his thought process INTERRUPTED and then he followed up with shocking condolences and heart filled concern.



Today, I spent a lot of time with one of Justin’s 11TH grade teachers.  She told me that Justin was an integral part of her class and he brought so much cultural insight to their discussions about the Harlem Renaissance that through his passion and insight he taught the students and also her.  She said that Justin was in her class for his last period on that dreadful day.  He was perfectly fine and in good spirits like most days.  Over that weekend she said that she read and read and read about how to deal with this loss. She said there were no books out there on how Teachers can cope with the loss of a student… She knew that come Monday morning she was going to need some help with coping along with her students.


When I got the mail today, I had placed it on a table near where I was talking to his teacher.  On the top of the pile was a letter from Northeastern University.  As I began to ask her about where she went to college she glanced at the mail and said “I got my Masters at Northeastern, and I can see how they would love to get a student like Justin.” We just looked at each other and shook our heads.  She did a great JOB of teaching Justin how to express himself.  She said it was hard to finish out the plan for her curriculum because this void of Justin missing INTERRUPTED the vibe of the whole class.


Lastly, I just had to share this handwritten letter from a camp counselor that Justin had when he was about 7 years old.  It moved me to tears. If nothing else, the picture will make you smile and imagine for a moment that young camper, our Renaissance man, your friend in action from at such an early age just enjoying life and releasing his talented energy.


“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Carr,

I was s sadden to hear of Justin’s passing. I knew him many years ago when I was his counselor at Summerkids Camp. When I saw his photograph on the news, I immediately recognized the bright eyes, and sweet smile of the camper I once knew. He was charming, lovable, funny and oh so talented. I clearly remember a moment when he got up on the little wooden stage and in front of the entire campfire and sang the Jackson 5’s “ I want you back”. He captured the crowd. I shared the news with several friends; also former counselors and everyone remembered him. I’d like to say that we’d remember every camper who shared our summers, but it’s just not the case.  Your son however was one of those campers-the unforgettable ones.  I know you know this already, so the real reason I’m writing is to let you know that there are a few more people out there remembering Justin with you.  He touched our lives in the brief time that we knew him. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and Justin’s friends.”




Thank you for interrupting your day and sending us such a thoughtful message that smile often after reading it.


Who could ever imagine what this loss would have such a ripple affects, not only to our family, Justin’s friends.-but also on the bus drivers, the teachers, and the camp counselors that Justin encountered?  It goes to show you that character counts.  There will always be people saying inappropriate things, but I guess like Rev. Ed Bacon said, the way love works is you have to somehow make good out of evil. Our days and life’s have been interrupted but I know that somehow, maybe not tomorrow,




(Justin sang this for an audition for a summer program at CSSSA when he was 13)


But we will get through it and our new life will continue in honor of Justin.


Oh how I miss you Justin!!!

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