Tag Archives: Justin Carr



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.

http://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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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

Dancing is Not to Get a Place on the Floor but to Enjoy Each Step Along the Way

Dancing is Not to Get a Place on the Floor- But to Enjoy Each Step Along the Way

A few people have asked me recently: “Why should I burden myself with the problems afflicting other peoples kids?” Trust me, Darrell and I are holding a heavy load that we bravely carry daily. But, I will ALWAYS be Justin’s mother—which also makes me a Mom. For those of you who know me—I will always instinctively give mothering guidance to others—just as I did for Justin and for my friends—this is my letting me BE!!!!!!!

Over the course of a few days I had the following conversations that have been on my mind and I wanted to share:

Friend #1

I have a friend whose son (was in Justin’s class) is away at college. I asked her: ” How is he doing?” She looked at me in astonishment and told me with gratitude that” I was the ” ONLY” mother /parent in the past 6 months who asked this question.” She said the usual question is: ” WHAT is your son doing?” She said the “Parents want to know his major, grades, and where he falls or fails on the social status on his campus??? ” She said “They have never been concerned about his wellbeing.”  I was shocked…

Friend #2

I congratulated my friend whose child turned down what society deems to the HIGHEST TOP tier college. Instead he chose his passion of study at another great University that had the best academic rigor for his chosen field.  “What’s wrong with that I asked?” He told me that his child got chastised by his peers/teachers/other parents for “settling” for what seemingly appears to be the “lesser college.” He  also told me, that to date, I was the “ONLY”  parent who congratulated him on his sons acceptance. I was flabbergasted!

Friend #3

When I asked a friend (whose son is a Sophomore in college) “How he was doing?” She looked at me and calmly said: “ He tried to commit suicide a few months ago… and I am trying everything to save him and to pull him out of this deep dark hole… “Not being a professional—but only a concerned “Mom”, I told her I was glad she was taking his condition seriously and doing EVERYTHING in her power to help. I was saddened.

Friend #4

Another friend told me that her son ( who is a Senior at a top Ivy League  in the big city)  told her he needed to get diagnosed as being ADHD so he could take medicine ( to survive college) like a lot of his peers.  She told him that she did not feel that he had this issue and she did not agree with him taking any medicine under false pretenses—but would support him always for getting over any seemingly impossible hump.  He felt better after they talked and was glad that he got it off of his chest and that she listened and provided sound advice. That’s what our job is as Parents. To give sound advice.

Paralympic Star #1

US Paralympic Track Star Blake Leeper recently spoke at the HW Middle School.  He told the audience that when he was born, the doctors told his parents that he would be wheelchair bound and that he would NEVER walk—let alone DANCE!  His parents thought otherwise and embraced and  armed him with the ” Can do anything” attitude.  He profoundly told the crowd that “People laugh at me because I am different, I laugh at them because they are all the same”.  He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

I must add don’t forget to DANCE…


Darrell and Blake Leeper
Darrell and Blake Leeper





Blake Leeper just played in the NBA Celebrity All Star Game. He competed for the RIGHT reasons…

For those fortunate students who have the opportunity to seek their higher education, going to college can be a BIG transition for MOST. Moving to a far away place, sharing a room with a stranger, being outside of their nucleus and thrust into a college atmosphere with a microcosm sampling of what the real world looks like. College days can be lonely and sometimes scary.

Today, it appears that the most popular motto kids/parents have for the pathway to success is BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. I do not need to list these in detail because everyone knows what they are. The kids these days have limited time to JUST HAVE FUN! They are dealing with (but not revealing) the major issues at hand that seem to be put on the back burner i.e. stress, failure (in the eyes of their parents/peers), isolation, confusion, depression,mental health issues or even having second thoughts about their choice of college/and or major.

I remember having so much fun at college—as my Dad said “Too much fun at USC!” —when my report card got home before I did and I received my first “C” ever! I can’t say that we were not faced with a few stresses and some failures—but not to the extent of sending us over the edge. We had random parties in our dorm rooms, in the cafeteria or campus halls. We Danced (thanks to Merle showing us the latest steps), we laughed, we talked to each other. We dated and collectively with groups we got together to socialize. I can’t honestly say that there were not any “vices” in the room, but that was not the focus either. When a friend was in need, we helped or directed them  accordingly. We did not keep blinders on.

Today, the electronic devices and social media have taken over. They are our blinders. People don’t look at each other, talk, or engage without clutching and frequently checking their phones. Some kids have voiced their sentiments saying they wished their college/high school  experience were like the years gone by—less competitive, that their peers would get together to really socialize sans the crutch of having to drink, get drunk or hook-up their way to happiness. They just want to connect and to have fun, and actually DANCE at a party… What happened?  Justin loved to dance.

Justin's Last Dance
Justin doing the Wobble with Kacey








Chamber Singers Cabaret with Victoria
Chamber Singers Cabaret with Victoria


We would ballroom dance in the kitchen. He also spent many an hour teaching his friends how to dance so that they would be ready at the parties! I wish I could dance again with Justin.

I also knew (for the most part) if Justin needed help i.e. emotionally, academically or? Darrel and I did not take him for granted.  We would often tell him that his only COMPETITION is with himself.

Today, I found my Dad’s college handbook from the 1950’s. It was a small pocket size book that spelled out how to dress, engage on campus, learn the school songs, and to have respect/assist their fellow peers/faculty/staff and how to seek help. As Freshman, they had to carry the booklet with them wherever they went.


Pocket Student Handbook
Pocket Student Handbook










They also gave each student a book on “ “How to Court” and “How to Fall in love.”  So much for the good ole days.

SCAN0182I    also found a picture of my Dad with my Mom going to the Junior Prom that was held in college… and the little keepsake booklet they gave out at the dance.

Mom and Dad at the Dance
Mom and Dad at the Dance



I hope that sooner than later collectively society grabs hold of the real issues that afflict OUR kids—who ARE the future. It is time to listen to them, talk to them and pull them away from their isolation as a “Wallflower” (a person who has no one to dance with or who feels shy, awkward, or excluded at a party) and take time to dance with them, engage, with them and just “Let them be!

People take heed (me included) OPEN YOUR EYES, Fall in love with your family and friends appreciate your  life and those around you. It’s ok to stand out instead of trying to fit in.  Life is not always a Party.  Daily life should not be so competitive that we become more selfish, lack compassion; empathy and genuine support of most people around us– and it should not definitely be the Last Dance.  This is my two  cents for the evening.







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“These Boots are Made for Walking…”

For those whose know me I really don’t have the passion anymore to shop or buy anything. A few weeks ago, as I looked down at my (Justin’s) old tattered and torn brown converse shoes that I wear most days, I thought to myself… You need to get some new shoes.! So, I hastily went on the internet in search of something turquoise and these boots came up. I purchased the last pair in my size.

New Boots
New Boots

I opened the box today and when I looked at the bottom of the boot, I was floored. Darrell asked me ” How much did it cost to get Justin’s name on them? I looked at him and said: ” This is the name of the boots. They came like this.!”

Justin's Boots

So, I am adding these pictures to say ” I can’t make this stuff up!” My “Rhinestone Cowboy” Justin was telling me to get some new shoes!!! As you all know I will continue to walk to the end of the Earth in honor of  my beloved son Justin.


These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do…

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The Little and Big  ENGINES that Could

Justin’s 18th Birthday September 13, 2014

I’m sure that everyone probably remembers the classic children’s tale: “The Little Engine that Could.” It is the story that teaches children the values of optimism and hard work. When a train carrying toys to kids breaks down at the base of a mountain, it hopes that one of the larger trains passing would help pull it over the difficult terrain. To his chagrin, not one of the bigger capable trains stopped to help as they each declined for various (selfish) reasons.

 However, it was the smallest and happiest BLUE ENGINE that stopped on his own and assisted, without hesitation. Even though he had never traveled this road before, this littlest of the trains, believed in himself so much that he found the inner-strength to pull an impossibly heavy load up a steep hill (subsequently overcoming a seemingly impossible task) while repeating the mantra “I think I can.”

Justin loved this story and you know he had the “Thomas the Train Set” and he built cities (with all the accouterments) all around the tracks that he laid between rooms and dared anyone to mess them up. Since, I have wanted to share this story for awhile I guess there is no better time than now to write on this eve of my precious little ENGINE Justin’s would be 18th birthday.

This past year, Darrell and I have heard many wonderful untold stories that warmed our hearts- about how Justin (the boy who loved BLUE) in his selfless own ways managed to help and carry many people to safe passage on their various journeys during his short life. The good thing that has come out of this shift in our life is that we are seeing how his impact will last through the ages in various ways. These are the greatest gifts of all.

This story is also about the power of  many other BIG ENGINES who are still on this planet traveling difficult terrains, willing to risk their own safety to save lives and property. They have the public’s trust and gratitude and they are empathetic and compassionate humans too. And, I’m sure many times they chant the mantra, “I think I can” to get through difficult patches. The key is they don’t give up.


One afternoon this past February, after I finished a brisk walk with a friend in the 90210 flatlands, I headed home over one of the canyon roads. As I reached the top near Mulholland Drive, I saw a Fire Station to my right. I must admit that in the prior months, very time I would pass a fire station or (stressfully) pull to the side of the road when an ambulance would pass, I often wondered were they the ones that responded to the 911 call when Justin needed them the most? As I sat daydreaming at the light- wondering if this was the ENGINE company that where the first responders, I decided to find out. I searched for the non-emergency number and found out that this station was not the one, but it was another one less than a mile from the school.

My heart was beating fast as I drove to Station #78. Initially, the place was abandoned and all locked up, but I decided to wait just a few more minutes near the back of the building by the garage. Soon, a Fireman driving a red pick-up truck drove up and as he was backing into a parking space, he nonchalantly asked: “ Can I help you?” I said: “Yes. Does this station handle Harvard-Westlake school calls?” He callously said: ”I don’t know, maybe we do?” Once again, I was about to do an “exorcist” move on him because he did not appear to be caring. Fortunately, after I gave him the address he clarified himself and got more brownie points when he said: “ Yes, we do. This is not my normal station I am here just to do some relief. ” So, I felt better because initially I thought he was playing with my already high strung emotions. I then told him why I was there and that I wanted to speak with anyone who may have responded to the call when Justin was in distress. He had not heard of Justin’s story. But, he quickly became compassionate, introduced himself as Roger and invited me inside to wait for the guys that were either out on a call or shopping for food.

I sat down and told him that I was surprised that I even had the gumption to come near any fire station let alone walk inside one because of my aversion to anything related to emergency vehicles. I told him that I usually cringe, plug my ears and cry profusely hearing constant siren sounds knowing that I was not there to help or ride with Justin to the hospital. But that day, as I sat there, for that moment, a calm came over me.

We sat in the uninterrupted station for about 30 minuets and I told him more about Justin. He asked me: “Was Justin was a believer in God?” I said” Yes he was, but at the moment, I am mad at God for taking my baby away.” He proceeded to tell me his own personal story about his son who has major health issues and has been near death many times before due to a serious heart condition. He said:“ You have to have faith Susan. Each and every time we take our son to the hospital for surgery, we do not know if he is going to come back home with us or go home to God. “ Justin would want you to be happy.

One by one, eleven different strapping and strong firemen returned to the station. Each time, Roger would gently introduce me saying: “ This is Justin Carr’s mom, the student who died swimming almost a year ago. Did any of you respond to that call?” One by one they all said,”No,” with unimaginable looks of sadness on their faces. Fortunately, Stephen, the last 30 something year old handsome fireman, came in and when Roger asked him if he was aware of the case and he said, “Yes.” He then sat down next to me and the rest of the guys all huddled around the large table. I stoically spoke about Justin, my only child  – who died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition during swim practice minutes after concluding a happy call with me, a selfless Earth angel, Renaissance Man, scholar, singer, actor, artist, Junior Olympic BUTTERFLY swimmer, an underdog supporter who repetitively since age 4 prayed, “God, help us achieve world peace”, – an ebullient charming child…  left them SPEECHLESS.

I then shared the CBS video with them and showed them pictures of what he really looked like and they got an intimate cursory snapshot of whom “that kid” who suddenly passed away really was. After I finished, they stood up in solidarity, hugged me and shed a few tears. Then, the  Roger, the Paramedic, proceeded to tell me everything he remembered from arriving on campus, running to Justin’s aide and how they painlessly tried to save his life. His details were so succinct it was as if it was just yesterday. He said proudly, “all six of us who got there became paramedics and we tried everything before we took him to the hospital-even the Captain.”

I then asked them collectively as they tried to fight back their tears :“ How do you guys manage your jobs? What do you do? “In unison they said “We try and save everyone from the senior who inadvertently steps on the gas and not the brake and runs over their spouse, to the smallest of the babies. We try to save everyone. When we see kids, because we all have them, we want them to go home to their families we work hard and hard and hard to save them. The aftermath of each event we come back and we sit around this table and we support and help each other get through, we are humans too they all said.”

Then I sternly asked: “I want to see the vehicle that Justin was riding in.” I saw them look at each other in shock, like OMG,  but I got my wish. A sense of calm came over me when I realized that this Big ENGINE Company #78 did what ever they could to try and save my little ENGINE. They tried hard hoping they could until they passed him over to the hands at the hospital ER. They were emotionally affected as if Justin was one of their own kids. They did their best but because of the suddenness of his condition, there was nothing that they could really do to change the situation. As I walked away from the truck, I thanked them for aiding my son, and they all hugged me again. Roger on the other hand asked me if he could walk me to my car and I agreed. When we got outside, he put his arm over my shoulder and asked if he could say a prayer. It was a beautiful calming moment and at that juncture, I found a little peace. A few hours later I sent the station an email saying:

“There are no words I can say but thank you for being patient with me today. To connect with you all has been lurking on my mind during this complicated grief for almost a year since the passing of my baby.  Thank you for trying your best to save one of the best Earth Angels… Justin Carr.”

Later I got an email from Roger and he said:

“Susan I’m so glad you came by the station today and I thank God I was working and got to meet you. What an amazing mother you are and I was truly blessed by your visit. I pray that you and your husband will find peace and joy; I know Justin would want you to be happy and live with passion and joy as he did. Death is not the end but the beginning of a new chapter. I will be praying for both of you and may God give the peace and joy you deserve. “

These BIG FIREMEN who drive these ENGINES never give up on the helpless at the bottom of the hill. They help others try and get over the hump each and every day.


Justin may not be here physically to be celebrated as we usually do it on earth, but his legacy lives on and his story is saving and changing lives. Earlier this week, I woke up to an email from a Nurse from a local high school who started testing their students soon after she saw “ Justin’s Story on CBS” The Subject line said: “ We Saved this one for Justin.”

“Dear Carr Family,

I have wanted to reach out to you to tell you about our August Screening event we had. You were on my heart that day as we were able to screen over 100 students through Cardiology and provide physicals. When I saw concerned Echocardiogram techs running down to catch a parent to meet with the cardiologist again, I knew we had found something significant. The screening captured a serious life threatening undiagnosed condition in this young man.

I have wanted to tell you of this and let you know that I was thinking of Justin that whole day as I do at every event. Sadly, I did not know you personally at that time and I am so sorry for your loss of such a great young man. But that day I also felt a sense of peace as I told Justin…”we saved this one for you.” There was a sense of immense emotion as we gave this child back to his mom and told her about your story. It brought tears to her eyes and she pledged to be praying for your family as well.

We are happy to have saved this one young man in Justin’s honor and memory and we will continue to move into the future to provide cardiac screenings for our students. Hoping to save families the terrible grief you have been through. May God bless you today and everyday.

This is a gift in Justin’s memory for saving the life of another.  Although, receiving this wonderful message was bittersweet ,it is still a blessing that a story on TV changed others lives and how they do business…


Time flies by and 18 is that milestone age when your child becomes an adult and you see the fruits of your labor… just like we wrote on Justin’s birth announcement back in 1996- when Darrell created a personalized “New Carr Registration.” In my wildest dreams, I never thought that Justin would not be here…

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Justin was born on September 13, 1996.

I can honestly say that this past 1.5 year without him, my BUTTERFLY, life has not been easy. But, what I can say with a bit of joy is that he was the little ENGINE that could, and that did do his best! We have learned that this gentle giant of an ENGINE was happy and helpful just like the  little BLUE ENGINE  in the book “The Little Engine that Could.”   Justin would often put people before himself, help when someone fell down (physically and mentally) and his signature smile would brighten up anyone’s day.  He also had many special friends who took good care of him too! He even coined his character traits as being helpful, observant creative, sensitive and skillful. So, as I pay tribute to my selfless angel on the eve before his would be 18th Birthday, I have comfort in knowing that he never gave up, did his best and helped without hesitation so many people he came in contact with. This is a gift that I will cherish each and every day.

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My dear butterfly Justin, the infinite and unimaginable trauma that we have endured has recently catapulted me to a higher understanding of how I am going to live my life in the days and years to come. I have come to experience an indescribable “knowing” within my soul that somehow during this difficult journey from my chrysalis – a catalyst will move me toward to find my voice, and my wings, once again.

Tonight my love, the choirs will sing loud for you and I hope you can hear them.

This swim cake was one of your favorites!
This swim cake was one of your favorites!

Happy Birthday honey! I love you forever, and I love you always. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be…

Love, Mom

P.S. I Can’t make this stuff up…As I just finished this entry, this email with a poem popped up.  It was from my cousin Burl who lives in Memphis, Tennessee…

Our Train Ride

 “At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.   

As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life. Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum.

Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats.

This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves.

The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are. 

It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life. 

I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.

Reap success and give lots of love.

More importantly, thank God for the journey.

Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train”

*** Justin’s Great Grandfather Arnold Toler was a Pullman Porter and he worked on the trains back in the day…


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Justin on the Train with Daddy
Justin on the Train with Daddy
Justin on Grandma Melvia's favorite Christmas Train
Justin on Grandma Melvia’s favorite Christmas Train

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Jay and Mary and Darrell and Susan ( A Labor of Love)


My entry tonight – “Jay and Mary and Darrell and Susan” is quite different from the old movie “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”. However, an old review of the movie caught my attention. Today, my message of hope is about “life-swapping” and is far from the plot of this movie of wife -swapping -but there are a few similarities like what Roger Ebert wrote about “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”:
“Roger Ebert
December 22, 1969
“Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” isn’t really about wife swapping at all, but about the epidemic of moral earnestness that’s sweeping our society right now. For some curious reason, we suddenly seem compelled to tell the truth in our personal relationships.”
Last month my USC sister friend Merike (aka my southern belle from Arkansas) sent me a copy of the poignant obituary that was written about a young man Nick Fagnano (Venice Beach lightning strike victim) by his beloved Mother Mary. Merike wrote ” Sue, I’m quite sure you have heard of this News story, and after you read it you will see that Justin and Nick’s lives and characters were uncannily similar. He was an only child too. In bold she wrote: “If you CHANGED the name to Justin, and the sport and activities to swimming, painting, and singing…it would be about yawl’s BABY!!”
Nick as describe by his mother Mary…
“Taken to heaven by a flash in a cloud, this beautiful young man, who radiated joy, kindness, humor and love touched the lives of everyone he encountered. He had a maturity and wisdom that was beyond his years, yet an innocence of spirit that was evident from kindergarten all the way into his adult life.”
As you know Justin died suddenly (from and undiagnosed heart condition)  during swim practice mere minutes after concluding a happy call with me. His 1st grade classmates described him as being kind, talented, great singer, actor and artist.  At 16 years old, these latter same traits were used by his high school peers. Justin was, an old soul, selfless Earth angel, Renaissance man, scholar, singer, actor, artist, Junior Olympic BUTTERFLY swimmer, an underdog supporter- who repetitively since age 4 prayed, “God help us achieve world peace”

After I re-posted Nick’s Obituary on Facebook, a lot of my friends said I should reach out to Nick’s parents. I said that I would after the fanfare dwindled down. But, the roar of the crowd said: “ You need to do it now!” So, a few weeks ago, I did. I wrote to Mary and Jay and I can’t even remember all that I said, nor did I think that the letter would even reach them. Well it did. Last Wednesday when I was with my 8-year-old niece Mia, I looked at my phone and there was an email from Mary. She was writing me on the one-month anniversary of losing her only child- and I was speechless. I gasped and started to cry. Mia looked at me in silence and then down at the ground because she did not know what to do. After the lady next to me asked me if I was okay, I nodded and gave her a cursory breakdown about the tale of losing two beautiful sons… without warning. She then began to cry herself (as she grabbed hold of her young son sitting next to her). She then said:” I can’t even imagine.” I rushed Mia to the car and I told her: “ I want you to always look out for your friends, and help others when you sense that they may need your help. You will never know how you can impact someone’s life even with small acts of kindness.” She said:”okay Tauntie”…
Late last night, we made plans to meet the Fagnano’s early this morning for breakfast. You know how it is trying to find a decent place to eat so I asked my number one Foodie Ed Hu where we can go that was quiet, and convenient with decent food and hassle free. He suggested Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. I called yesterday and was told that they could not take a reservation for parties under six. I tried to see if they would make an exception, but the hostess said: “ No, Exceptions! Well, here is where Merike steps in AGAIN. As I hung up the phone, there was another ring and it was Merike. She asked:“ What are you doing?” I told her I was trying to make a reservation but they would not take one for a party of 4. She slyly asked the name of the place and got off the phone. Five minutes later she sent a text saying: “ You have a reservation under Darrell’s name at 9 a.m. at Little Dom’s. I told the Manager that you are VERYYYYYY popular on Facebook and we would really appreciate them making an exception”!! My beautiful southern belle was at it again! She said: “ DON”T COME FOR ME UNTIL I SEND FOR YOU… LOL!!!

For the first five minutes after Jay and Mary entered the restaurant, all we did was embrace, look at each other in silence and shed a few tears. The rest of the time we proudly shared stories of our precious boys and shook our heads in dismay  to the thought of their lives ending so soon, when they were both at the top of their game. Nick was accepted into USC for Real Estate and Urban Development.

Nick Fagnano At USC

Had Justin been accepted into USC for Architecture, their paths would have surely crossed.

Justin at Architecture Camp

But, now as we look up to the sky we can only see hope and believe that the images in the clouds are in fact Nick playing baseball, surfing and dancing with Justin (Juju) in tow singing, dancing and swimming with the biggest beautiful smiles ever. Jay said that they got a special call from Tommy Lasorda the night before Nick’s celebration of his life. Tommy asked them “Would you trade the 20 years you had with Nick, for no years at all? Maybe his work was already done…. We all agreed that we would not trade what we had, but only wished for more…
Well this Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a holiday for the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of our country. Today, Jay, Mary, Darrell and I spoke about the work that we now have to do so that our boys continue to live through us and shine and light up the lives of the people they touched and those who never met them.
Jay and Darrell agreed that since their lives have changed forever, they are now working and dealing each day with the Labor of Love that they have for their boys. The ones they proudly raised to be strong viable, kind, and loving young men. Labor of Love is described as “ productive work performed voluntarily without material reward or compensation”. Jay wants to help coach a baseball team, and Darrell opted to teach young boys how to use their hands constructing and building things from scratch- one rock at a time. Mary and I seem to get through the day by writing. It is imperative that we all stay connected to our boys dreams and visions and their friends. It helps us get through each day as we continue to reveal our endless love we have for our young men and for the new found friendship that we have as we grieve with gratitude knowing that we are not alone. Like Ebert said in 1969 about that movie “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice”: “For some curious reason, we suddenly seem compelled to tell the truth in our personal relationships.” We have learned to tell the truth how we feel each day. It helps us and it helps those all around us.
And one more thing, Darrell and I have to agree with Mother Mary’s (Fagnano’s) words to us: “Joy is the infallible presence of God” and that if, even in our deepest sadness we see reasons to smile each day, to see a glimpse of the joy that was always there with Nick, that we will be able to somehow get up each day and find a way to honor him as you have Justin. When you transition from living a life of infinite possibilities to living a life of infinite questions, it changes the way you look at everything.”
As for Miss Merike, she was too busy trying to make sure we got a reservation even though she was carrying a extra heavy heart today in her own right. Twenty-three years ago today she delivered her  a stillborn daughter. I can’t believe that she put us ahead of her sadness and day of reflection, trying to make sure our day went well. No words… So, it was a blessing for all of us today Jay and Mary and Darrell and Susan and Merike too that we have each other. The right people will always find their way into your life if you are open to it and receive.
** One more thing that connects us together with the Fagnano’s. Nick was a very close friend with Molly Chapman’s older brother Jake when they were in preschool. Molly was one of Justin’s very good friends at school. The world is too small.
I can’t make this stuff up!!!


Mary & Darrell & Susan & Jay
Mary & Darrell & Susan & Jay

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Without ever meeting us before, Laura J. Goldberg, the founder of ArtsAhimsa (concerts to promote non-violence through the arts www.artsahimsa.org) came to California (pro bono) from New York. She volunteered her time and shared her talents as a violinist for the Justin Carr Wants World Peace (JCWWP) ArtsAhimsa Concert that was held this past April.

See concert video highlights:


What a tremendous and gracious effort on her part. Fortunately, for us, after she learned more about Justin’s dreams and his desires to “provide visual and performing arts opportunities to underprivileged kids”, Laura felt compelled do try and do more. She told us of a possibility that maybe one of the students (who participate in the Saturday tutoring and arts program that Justin started at an underserved Public School in Los Angeles) might qualify to attend a renowned family owned summer visual and performing arts program for girls in Massachusetts. When I checked out the website: http://www.belvoirterrace.com, I thought to myself that I wished that I were young again to attend such and camp.  But then I envisioned Justin  rolling his eyes and telling me: “Mom, you do not even have any talents, I am still trying to teach you how to dance! So maybe not!”


This past Mother’s Day, Nancy Goldberg, the Owner/Operator of Belvoir Terrace  Summer Camp made me smile on my seemingly sad day. She called and told me of wanting to offer a scholarship to a young girl to attend the camp. I was elated and cried with tears of joy. I told her: “I wished that Justin was here to see all of this happening around us.” She gently told me:” “Honey, you need to think about what a blessing Justin was and how he continues through you and these children you are helping out.” Nancy is right. Justin left us the blueprints to follow…

BELVOIR TERRACE  Art, Dance, Music, Theatre, Summer Camp for Girls
Art, Dance, Music, Theatre, Sports Summer Camp for Girls

Well, we are happy to say that two weeks ago, Gigi (a viable 8th grader) who was  energetic, talented and ready to learn  arrived at Belvoir Terrace for an opportunity of a lifetime!  She wrote a passionate essay, she was confident, talented, a good dancer, independent, and she passed and interview and audition with flying colors. She was ready and willing to learn more. Subsequently, Belvoir Terrace awarded her a major scholarship that was supplemented by the JCWWP Foundation. She completed the application and submitted a personal essay.

Gigi Heads to Belvoir Terrace
Gigi Heads to Belvoir Terrace

Following are a few excerpts from Gigi’s essay written by a 13 year old:

“Justin wanted everyone to have a chance of living his or her dream. Even though I didn’t know Justin, I hear great things about him. I have never seen a person (especially a young person to want World Peace).

 I think that Justin would feel that I am a good fit for the program because I want the same things that he wants the world to achieve. I want World Peace because we are living in some tough days. People killing each other, people are kidnapping, stealing, committing suicide, and saying the “N” word to the President of the United States. What happened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream? It seems no one wants World Peace.”


For the next six weeks Gigi will take classes in ballet, modern, jazz and tap dance along with musical theatre, tennis and swimming. She will return home from the East Coast with new skills and many new friends. Thank you Laura, Nancy and Justin too for affording Gigi this opportunity of a lifetime for sure!


Gigi in Dance Class at Belvoir Terrace
Gigi in Dance Class at Belvoir Terrace
Belvoir Terrace Dance Studio
Belvoir Terrace Camp Dance Studio


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 Cristine is a new friend, who recently lost her mother. Since the aftermath of this dramatic change in her life, she told me that now she finally realizes- and can fully appreciate why some things were more important to her mother than others. As a child, she often felt that their home was not as tidy as she thought it should be because her mom used it as a staging/storage space for her classroom supplies and projects during her 30 years as an Art Teacher.   Instead of constantly doing house chores, her mom’s priority was frequently ushering Cristine and her sister out of the house to explore museums, parks, beaches, exhibits and other areas of interest in and outside of their city limits.

 Currently, Cristine homeschools her children, and she quickly has realized how much time it takes in a day, to manage all of the work/life/school balance issues, and she sees the importance of not sweating the small stuff and is now cherishing the things that are important in life.

This past Monday, Cristine shared a personal treasure that she found at her parents home. It was a handmade simple craft that her mother helped her create in 1977 (when she was only 3 years old). The beauty of this jewel that was completed while on a family vacation is that it only cost time and love.

This priceless treasure chest was made from an old egg carton that now will be cherished and coveted forever. The details of the park or beach visited are so well documented on the lid. Now Cristine can not only take her own children to each spot that her mother took her but they can make memory boxes filled with their finds on their childhood trip.

When you look at the attached pictures of the box, you can see that the outside of the egg carton is adorned with shells found on various beaches. Inside, each egg cradle holds a nonperishable memorabilia item that was found at the various spots. There is moss, a shell, pinecone, or flowers all secured with gobs of good old fashion Elmer’s glue. The lid has a detailed description of where each item was found i.e. Acorn (Passion Gulch State Park) or Pinecone (Napa Valley State Park). Now tell me that this piece of ART does reveal HISTORY! This is one that should be tried at home. Priceless memories that have withstood 37 years. In honoring the memory of her mother, Cristine said that she would now focus on the positive memories that she had with her as she moves forward in her life.


Cristines Golden Vacation Egg Carton
Cristines Golden Vacation Egg Carton

Last Tuesday, I dropped an earring on the floor next to my bed. When I got down on my knees in search of the small turquoise stone, I noticed a large plastic box underneath my bed that I had not touched for many years. I reached under to grab the container and I gently pulled it towards me. Initially, I had no ideal what was inside. However, shortly after I released the dusty lid, I knew exactly what lay dormant- and soon appreciated- why I had saved the wonderful treasures that were neatly stockpiled inside. Tears gently rolled down my cheeks because I knew that I was about to ride an emotional rollercoaster as I made a trip down memory lane through the eyes of Justin. Inside, I found an aggregate collection of some of his finest and priceless elementary school work from grades 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I said: Oh My!” as I frantically grabbed the phone and tried to call Justin’s Elementary Principal “Ms. Q” (who produced and directed 13 plays that Justin was in) so she could be a witness to my impromptu discovery. She did not answer.

After I quickly dragged the box into Justin’s old pre- teen bedroom, I sat down to explore. Inside I found a treasure trove of his beautiful sketches, detailed artwork, colorful and creative book reports, science projects, daily journals, letters from his classmates (written when he was the Star Student of the week), doodles, plays, scripts, autobiographies, a biography written about his father Darrell and to top it off, at the bottom of the stack was his 2nd grade report with detailed sketches of “THE LIFECYCLE OF A BUTTERFLY!! On the cover Justin used objects to depict the various stages of the development of a butterfly. All that remained in tack was a painted piece of bowtie pasta that was the shape of a butterfly. How creative is that!

Justin's 2nd Grade Butterfly Report Pictures drawn by Justin
Justin’s 2nd Grade Butterfly Report Pictures drawn by Justin
Justin's  2nd Grade Butterfly Report Pictures
Justin’s 2nd Grade Butterfly Report Pictures


All of Justin’s work depicted such skill and precision. It was again apparent and quite evident that from the young ages of 6,7,8, Justin had clearly defined the beginnings of his strong affinities for the arts. Regardless of the subject matter all of his homework assignments were completed like pieces of art.

I was a Room Parent for many of Justin’s classes throughout his life. The Public School lack of funds did not always have the resources. So my “Pasadena Public Defenders” as I call them now, Jeru, Lorraine, Linella. Etc. all helped the teachers with our time and resources to supplement and to provide the best for our kids.   Whenever I did something special, Justin would MAKE his classmates write thank you notes to me. I found one and just shook my head marveling at the accuracy of Justin’s character images of his classmates. He nailed their expressions and hairdos even in 3rd grade on the cover sheet.

From 3rd Grade Class
From 3rd Grade Class


Cover Artwork by Justin Carr 3rd Grade
Cover Artwork by Justin Carr 3rd Grade

Justin’s homework, and the notes written by his classmates were all true testaments of who he was at an early age and once again affirm that he really never changed as he grew to become a young talented man. The scope of the work that I found revealed the value of having the tutelage of good teachers who infused creative syllabus and instruction that enticed the kids to yearn to learn and it made the work effortless and fun.

Notes Justin's friends wrote to him
Notes Justin’s friends wrote to him


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It was also a reality check in how Justin was blessed with the best of the best of teachers (Ms. Walker, Ms. Tataro, Ms. Kim, Ms. Yu, Ms. Hall) who loved their jobs, and most importantly loved their students. They were not lackadaisical in their jobs; TAUGHT every day, infused the ARTS and the kids all grew and learned tremendously as a direct result. Subsequently, Ms. Q also spent her own money and personal time on every musical that she produced. She also allowed each and every student in good standing to participate in every play.

justin's debut as the Wolf in the Three Piggy Opera 1st Grade
justin’s debut as the Wolf in the Three Piggy Opera 1st Grade

Following are excerpts from the notes I found in the collections, I did not correct any spelling errors:

Year 2002 (6 years old) 1st Grade

Every kid in the class got a week to be the “Star Student”

When Justin was in 1st grade he wrote in his journal:

“ I am nice, handsome, cool, special, kind, helpful, sweet and caring. I am very smart. I am an incredible artist. I have pretty eyes. I am trusting and I am loveable, capable special and unique.”

Justin's Description of Himself 1st Grade
Justin’s Description of Himself 1st Grade

His first grade classmate also wrote the following notes to him in his Star Student journal: I purposely did not correct the spelling errors to keep them authentic.

1st Grade 10/24/03

“Dear Justin,

You are nice and a good artis. Justin, you are the best kid with art. I thing that you love and help out with anyone. You are a good friend with what you do. You are the best friend I have. Love, Natalie Sheng”

 “Dear Justin,

You are an excellent artist and a fantastic drawer. You’re capable, caring, unique and special. Love, Nolan”

 “Dear Justin,

I think you are the kindest, nicest and most caring student ever. I think you are a fantastic artist. You can be a fantastic basketball and football player. Love, Ravi

2nd Grade 3/19/04

“Dear Justin, you are nice, funny, handsome, cute, great singer and actor, Next time I come to your house can we do a show? And you are a very good artist.

From Berrie Tsang”
“Dear Justin,

You are a good star student. You are a good artist. You are a good basketball player, you are a good friend. You are good at math; you are a great reader, actor, and writer.

Sincerely, Micaela”

“Dear Justin,

You are an awesome artist. You’re a funny and goofy guy. You’re a great leader. Your great at singing. You are a great friend and helper. From Jade”


5/23/04 (8 years old) Justin wrote in his journal

“When I get older I would like to be a great swimmer and an architect/engineer I would like to go to the Olympics and place in freestyle. After that, I would want to build movie and play sets and houses.”


“My ART Studio “I’d like to have my own art studio. I would paint pictures for weddings, parties and some just for fun” I am going to be a famous artist when I am dead.”



Justin's 2nd grade drawing and Journal entry.  February 2013 picture of Justin doing a cartwheel
Justin’s 2nd grade drawing and Journal entry. February 2013 picture of Justin doing a cartwheel



 This evening, I decided to take a stroll after I parked on a random street in Pasadena. I have a hard time going near places of interests that Justin loved so I usually detour. However, today I could not avoid walking down the back street behind his old elementary school. The playground and gym that once were is now a major construction site; Measure Y dollars at work! As I peered through the fence, I shed a tear, because I knew if Justin (my little Architect) were here, he would have loved to see this project in progress and review the proposed plans.

I also visualized that on a few occasions (when Justin was in 1,2,3 grades) I would drive down this street during recess, just to see if I could spot him and hopefully see him engaged with friends and having a good time. Yes I did! The truth has to be told. He never saw me, but sometimes his friends would.  🙂  As I walked away from the school, I dialed Ms. Q’s number. This time she answered. I tried not to break into tears, as I told her I was standing near the school that she transformed into a Blue Ribbon School, near the same corner that she last saw Justin when he came for a visit after he left. She told me she remembered that day too. Then she said: “I just sent you a picture of something that reminded me of Justin today.” After I hung up the phone, I looked at my text and it was a picture of a turquoise butterfly.

Like Darrell said ” Justin asked for World Peace when he was 4 years old.”  He also wrote it in a  Santa when he was about 9 years old.  This was a consistent theme and not to far from Justin’s thoughts because I also came across his holiday wishes in this treasure chest of memories  and found it in a homework assignment when he was 8 years old. My baby…..

Justin's Holiday Wishes Page 1
Justin’s Holiday Wishes  For Himself Page 1
Justin's Holiday Wishes Age 8
Justin’s Holiday Wishes  For His Family Age 8
Justin's Holiday Wishes Page 3
Justin’s Holiday Wishes For the World and For His Friends Page 3

I had to write tonight, all of these things and images on the attached pictures are true. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!!

Justin’s High School Art Teacher Ms. Hall told me: “ Art is one way to keep a person Immortal. It will live on through the ages.” All of the art treasures that Justin left will last forever. Justin will forever live in my heart!!



In 11th Grade, Justin listed his character traits as being Helpful, Skillful, Creative, Observant and Sensitive.  He was right again.

He also called me a Hoarder.  Like my friend Marjorie said “Being a Pack rat has its benefits.  Deciding what to throw away has always been a struggle. ”  It looks like I chose well.  I think I did!!

Was this all Gods plan? It is still hard for me to get to this point of reason. I still have questions each and every day.  How could Justin have impacted the world if given more time???????????????????????



3rd grade swim party
3rd grade swim party with Lana and Berrie at Nolan’s house hosted by Jeru


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Every PICTURE tells a story… The Road to the Emmy’s


We love you Justin Carr!!
We got the Emmy for you honey!!! love Mom, Dad and Ray!!

emmyparty jujuemmy


The first time I saw this catch phase “Every Picture Tells a Story” is when I ventured into an Art Gallery, with this name, on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, CA. I was intrigued by the original art from books that were being displayed. I had just started working at my first job out of college, and to date, my earnings were usually spent on travelling and at Loehmans, one of my favorite shopping spots. However, this was about to change when I spotted a fabulous watercolor image called the Spider Woman by a famous Black Artist named Jerry Pinkney


I just had to have it. It depicted a beautiful black woman surrounded by animals, adorned by a spider web. The colors and the details were incredible. I secured it by putting it on layaway. Subsequently, I had to limit my leisure shopping for clothes because I was anxious to place this art on my wall. Just tonight, it dawned on me that maybe it was Jerry Pinkney’s art that could have inspired Justin (at an early age) to have such a strong affinity to include his heritage in some of his artwork in his later years.

After Justin was born, I noticed how he loved looking at this picture. Often, he would sit on the window seat and call me over to show me new things he discovered in the intricate and details of the design. Subsequently, I purchased many of Jerry’s children books for Justin. They always had a colorful tapestry and an abundance of images of people of color. These books are still on the shelf….

Well, there seems to always be a twist to my thoughts as I try and get up each day. So, in order to recap some of the events of this week that sent my infinite thoughts of Justin either into a downward spiral or an upward lift, I must tell the bad with the good. It is only natural for me to be honest these days.

I get frustrated because I cannot patch this hole in my empty heart. And with this PICTURE of grief, it brings many moments of sadness along with this unimaginable life that Darrell and I have. I know it’s hard to fathom and people cannot often find the words, but sometimes comments and or spotted non verbal communication gestures just set me back.

Picture this…



The truth can be told about how we feel. Quite frankly, it can be summed up into just a few words. It starts with the letter that comes after the letter “E”. It is beyond unimaginable. It is “devastating and profound,” the exact words used in an email by a “use to be” friend (neighbor) whom I have not seen since that dreadful day in 2013. She wrote me on the anniversary of Justin’s passing to basically abandon our friendship “because this loss of Justin was “too profound and devastating for her.”  How about me? How about Darrell? Even though she lives 2 minutes away, she basically wrote that she could not be in our lives anymore, but as a consolation, she would keep good thoughts of Justin in her mind and hopes that Darrell and I will smile every day just with the memories of him.

Can you PICTURE how I reacted to this? I guess she wants to assume that I am just singing this song to keep me occupied because I can’t be sinking in sadness:

“Row, row, row my boat,

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream. “

Oh so I wish!!!!

Why is it that some people wish that the PICTURES of Justin Carr just cease and go away? Why all of the press? They say that Justin’s Story is old news and that it has been talked about for more than just a few weeks, we need to move on. In the past, and recently, I heard that some people had verbalized that they wished that Darrell and I had stopped showing up to events at school” It was not fair to them! I think some actually believe that we are contagious and that we “bring down the house” when we do show up. They do not want to read another story or see another picture related to that dreadful Carr Family. It’s not like we parked our car on campus and waited for the pity party to begin. We attended with honor the events that we could for Justin. It helped us and the community to get though the shock of this loss. Do you think it was easy going on campus, let alone living w/o him on a daily bases  and not seeing him or bringing him home with us? PICTURE that, I’m sure you can’t imagine.

The villages of people who care and walk with us have tried to encourage us to look at the PICTURES in our life with the positive things that have come out of this tragedy. I try, but I’m not a super woman and it hurts. Hear ye Hear ye, as long as we are living, Justin will live through us. We will show up and stand up for any and everything that our broken hearts can take in honor of Justin. Like my Dad always said, “ Don’t let other people determine how you act”



So with that said, I am now going to reflect back on how CBS’s Justin’s Story (after the initial news frenzy ) came to fruition.   It was on a Friday night in 2012. Justin runs upstairs and shows me a picture from an ad he saw about a backstage tour of the famous “El Capitan theatre. He said ecstatically “Mom, they are going to have a rare tour that will be open to the public. Will you take me? “ I said, ”Sure, when is it?” He said, “Tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m.” I hesitated for a moment, but when I saw the excitement in his eyes, I said, “OK, so go to sleep now so we can get up early and go.” And we did.

When we got into the line of about 100 people, I noticed that Justin was the youngest in the crowd among the enthusiasts with the average age of about 65-70 years old.  This did not bother Justin at all. As we toured the theatre, he marveled at the dressing rooms, the detail in the finishes, the stage, the fly loft, everything. He was in hog heaven. As we proceeded to walk down some stairs, I looked back and a man with a CBS camera crew made a motion to me to come talk to him. I went over to speak with him. He asked if I would be able to stay after the tour for an interview. I said, we could stay but I did not want to be interviewed because, I was only the driver, and it was my son Justin who wanted to come, so he should speak with him.

At the end of the tour, we waited in the lobby and the Show Producer, Raymond Bell, began interviewing Justin. Justin was just a tad bit nervous but confident in his answers about his love of Architecture and the impact of the tour. When the interview was over, Ray asked for the complete spelling of Justin’s name for the record. Then he said “Mom, what is your name?” I said “ Susan Toler Carr”. He paused for a minute looked at me and said, “Is there any relationship to Burl Toler?” I said, “Yes. He was my father.” Ray was so excited. He told me that he grew up in the Bay Area, played football for UCLA and always had the highest respect for my Dad, and he would love to do a Documentary on him. We exchanged contact information.  Subsequently, a few weeks later on a saturday morning,  the El Capitan episode aired on both CBS 2 and KCAL 9 news.


I will always remember that day because my phone started ringing when people saw Justin on TV. It only aired in the morning, and then it did not air the rest of the day or weekend as planned because it was preempted by the sudden death of Whitney Houston….


A few months later, Ray came over to our house with another creative artist and filmmaker, Doug Harris. They had just completed their preliminary interviews with many members of the NFL community including officials, and players to piece together a Documentary about my Father. It was a school night and Justin was tired. I remember him distinctly rolling his eyes at me when I gently asked him if he would talk about Papa to Ray and Doug who had just had a grueling day in the field. It would only be a few minutes I told Justin. He agreed, and gave me and Darrell that look to “Kindly Get lost” so we retreated downstairs to be out of mind and out of site. At the end, all Ray and Doug said to us was “Justin did great!” and they left.

Well, we never saw any part of the interview until after Justin passed away. Doug uploaded it online.


During that dreadful week of planning Justin’s service, my brother Martel was searching the Internet trying to keep up with the media. He said” Did you see the YouTube video of Justin talking about Dad? “ I said “No, and at this juncture I don’t think I can. “ Days passed before I saw it. I’m sure most of you have seen it. When I did watch it, I got goose bumps .The PICTURES of Justin were incredible as he profoundly spoke passionately about the love he had for his Grandfather. But, I could not help but notice that even though Justin spoke lovingly about my Dad, he did not realize that he was also speaking about himself.


Minutes after Justin left this Earth, our phones were ringing off the hook with requests from the media for information and interviews. Thank goodness my band of CIA Agents, including Bill Funderburke, blocked all access and made sure that the correct information about Justin’s Story was accurate. For weeks after, I had TV Stations calling asking if we were ready to talk. We were not. I stalled for months because Darrell and I needed to make sure we had all of our questions answered surrounding this unimaginable loss and that we were of sound mind to talk. Then it dawned on us that we did not want a cavalier or sensationalized segment about Justin. We wanted people to know who Justin really was. So, I contacted Ray Bell. He was the only Producer who had really got a chance to meet Justin. He enjoyed talking to Justin and I watched, as he always seemed to boost Justin up with admiration. I later found out that Ray also knew first hand about what it feels like to loose a son… Need I say any more?

So at the end of Summer 2013 Ray came over with his crew, including the Reporter, Suraya Fadel (who had on turquoise) not knowing what that color meant to us. They spent hours in our home learning more about Justin.  Last Fall on a Monday night, Justin’s Story Aired on CBS 2 News at 11:00 p.m.  It was painful to watch, but beautifully done.

Today, Ray called to tell us that “ Justin’s Story” has been nominated for an Emmy Awards under the Light News Story-Single Report Category for the 66th Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards.


He said regardless if we win, it was picked from thousands of submissions, so it is an honor indeed just to be nominated amongst the talented pool.

Thank you Ray and Suraya for putting many PICTURES together to tell the story of Justin.   You put your heart and soul into this STORY that had to be told.

It is true that “Every Picture Tells A Story” Including the bad with the good. I could not tell this story without mentioning the bad that has come with the good surrounding my life as I know it now.

Because of Ray and Suraya’s diligence  there was even a Part 2 of Justin’s Story where a local high school (Oaks Christian)  started testing athletes and saving lives as a direct result of hearing about the demise of Justin.    I wish we would have known…….This story needs to be told!!!

Oaks Christian School Offers Heart Screenings For Athletes After Swimmer’s Death
The death of a young athlete due to an undetected heart condition is leading to changes that will save lives. Justin Carr, a young student athlete at Harvard-Westlake, died during a swimming workout. His autopsy revealed that he, unknowingly,suffered from cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening of…




jcarchJustin's Bust of Papa 8th gradejustiblecoatRikio, Justin Mako


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STILL I RISE (Prayers Continue for Justin)


Saturday, I woke up in the middle of the night (I guess during my REM stage of sleep) and typed in the words “Still I Rise” into my phone, then I went back to sleep. When I woke up hours later, I recalled that our beloved Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou had written the poignant poem “STILL I RISE.” I read it and quickly noticed how so many of the couplets in her poem related to the life Justin led. Maybe that’s why the words came to me so clearly in my sleep.

Through the pain of this unimaginable loss, it is heart warming to take notice on how the legacy of Justin, our Phenomenal Young Man, has created a new life of its own—one that will help us RISE out of bed and try to put one foot on the floor. Yes, the blueprints of treasures that Justin left behind—his songs, his dance, his words of wisdom, his art, his messages of hope, and his self proclaimed character traits—of being skillful, observant, sensitive, helpful and creative will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of so many, even those who never met him and those that only knew him briefly. But, I must say that often it is still hard to RISE up each day without his physical presence within arms reach.


You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise?
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

It is apparent, even with the stretch of my imagination, that I take Justin with me everywhere I go. Last week, at a whirlwind of unconnected events, somehow they all mentioned the sweet sound of Justin’s name. From the pomp and circumstances of a Catholic wedding, a Non-sectarian school wide awards ceremony, a Jewish B’nai Mitzvah, and an Episcopal Sunday Sermon, unexpectantly these inter-faiths all came together by including blessings and honors for Justin. And as my infamous phase goes “ I can’t make this stuff up!” It propelled me to write. I have to get it out.


A few Saturday’s past, we proudly witnessed the wedding ceremony and beautiful personal vows of Soledad (my dear high school friend) and her best friend Marshall in our hometown of San Francisco, CA. As we looked out into the vistas of the San Francisco skyline from the tiled terrace of the historic Fairmount Hotel Penthouse, and listen to their spoken words, we were caught off guard when Justin’s name rang out during the Prayers of Remembrance along with Soledad’s parents and Marshall’s father who, too, have gone before us. Later Soledad told me: “ I consider Justin right up there with the love I had for my parents. He will always have that special place in my heart.” It was so thoughtful of them to include Justin in their sacred covenant and personal day of celebration.

Soledad’s connection to Justin is far deeper than many people know. She and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time when it was time for Justin to come into this world. Ironically, it was Soledad who delivered Justin. I had not planned to deliver Justin at the hospital where she worked. It just happened to be the nearest hospital since time was of the essence. Need I say that when she delivered Justin, she was also pregnant with her youngest child Shaylyn who was born just two weeks after Justin. She is also Justin’s Godmother.

So, even during the holy matrimony of a couple,
Justin name STILL RISES and was included in the love shared between two.


Top Senior Honor Awards were given out to a about 10% of the graduating class. The Faculty voted on most of them. The student body voted on one. Darrell and I painfully, yet with pride, received the awards on Justin’s behalf. These awards given to Justin were not out of circumstance: he would have received them even if he were still standing and some said that his name could have been placed on them in the early days when he first set foot on the campus.


1. Performing Arts Award
“Contrary to what some may imagine, the Performing Arts Award is given not to the student with the most outstanding talent, nor to the most-improved student during their time with us– but to the student who best demonstrates through his or her engagement in our program, that which we, as a faculty, value most in a performing artist. Above all, this means that the student is an excellent collaborator; that they ask much of themselves and in so doing, raise the expectation of the group. As leaders, they are supportive, generous, and devoted. Their focus first, is on what they can do to learn, grow and improve, and second, how they can help those around them to make the production better. Performing arts (Shared with his BFF Molly Chapman)

2. David Justin Rascoff Award
“David Justin Rascoff, was a co-editor of the school’s paper, the Harvard News. He passed away in a car crash in June 1991 (just days before his graduation). He was well known for his vehement opposition to the merger between all-male Harvard and the girl’s Westlake school. Rascoff, who had been accepted to Princeton University, played tight end on the football team and was a member of the student government. This memorial award presented to the senior “who has the courage to stand up for his beliefs” He always had the courage to say what he believed no matter how unpopular that made him.

3. The George Coleman Edwards award is given to a senior who has “best served the School and his/her fellow classmates.” There were 10 students from the class on the ballot which was put together by the Faculty. The whole student body voted on this award.

4. Humanitarian Art Award “This Culminating Award is for the Student who most inspired us as Artists”. Justin did not have any formal art training. Most of his masterpieces were just homework assignments.

As the names were called for the 25 awards, I was elated to have personally known most of the recipients. They were Justin’s friends. For years, five of them even road the bus with him each morning. They all have been accepted into top colleges and have promising futures ahead of them. Many of them have shared with me their wonderful, idiosyncratic “Justin encounters” which helped shaped them. Whether it was:
• His warm personality or his smile
• Looking up to him for inspiration
• His genuine and funny personality
• His enthusiasm that made people happy
• His comforting nature during stressful times
• His nurture and support to help build self confidence
In some way or another, Justin impacted their lives. I know that their true friendships with Justin also impacted him as well. Friendships go both ways.



Mikey (my Jewish nephew), had his Bar Mitzvah with another young boy. At a mere 13 years of age, I can see Justin’s traits shining through him. As we walked up the steps through the Temple doors, I had to pause and reflect on the many times Justin attended Bar and Bat Mitzvahs there. I remember he took pride in getting invited to his friends’ rites of passage. He made a point to always attend the service to honor his friend and then make plans to go to the fun after party. Justin would always stay and support his friends until the end of the festivities. He did not like to see kids come and leave a party before it was over. He wanted to make sure his friends were surrounded in joy to the end. We gave Justin his surprise “Bro mitzvah” as some of his friends called it, when he turned 13. No formal ceremony, just fun times at LA LIVE bowling alley. He was shocked and surprised.

As I read in the program and what Mikey’s parents Lori and David’s personal statement of love to him, my heart began to beat fast. The words brought me back to the love we had for Justin. They wrote: “Our friends and family have called you an ‘old soul’— a child who can have a conversation with a person of any age. Your interest in photography, technology, and stage mirror your understanding of what is beautiful in the world and what makes people and things tick.” Darrell and I are totally aligned with Lori and David with their unconditional love for Mikey, and their unyielding will and desire to support all of his curiosities. A true blessing when parents let their children “be” who they want to “be”. Mickey is spirited, intuitive, creative, sensitive and willing to lend a hand. Last year, he took the time and made a personal phone case for me with a turquoise butterfly inscribed with Justin Carr Wants World Peace. Now what 7th grader do you know would take the time to even think of designing such a gift? I am so glad that Mikey was able to spend time with Justin.

Louie was the other young boy who was also celebrating his Bar Mitzvah whom we did not know. However, we got to know him quickly. We learned that he was and only child, who stood strong during his fathers illness and he wanted to be an Architect and an Engineer. His parent’s message to him was: “Wee have gotten to watch and see you become a kid who thinks ‘outside the box.’ Your imagination is incredible. You began to build first with blocks, then action figures. You saw and created things in such a unique way.”

So as you can see, both Mikey and Louie both had similar traits and passions just like Justin. I could not believe it nor can I make this stuff up.

What also caught my attention was when Louie’s Father Jeff shared his love to his son by citing a verse form Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance”. He encouraged Louie to continue to trust himself.

“Emerson, who is known for his repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself” which means to have faith in yourself, has woven it into his work – “Self-Reliance”. It is his explanation of what he meant by the repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself”.
Emerson wrote that every individual has a genius in him which comes out when one trusts himself, has faith in himself, when one can trust his thoughts, feelings and his desire and passion even after all disapprovals.

I thought of Justin the whole time I was hearing Emerson’s words. These words reminded me of the meaning behind the David Justin Rasnoff award that Justin received just a few days earlier. Justin (like David) stood up for his believes, even if his ideals were not popular. I am so glad that Justin trusted himself and his beliefs and relied on his self worth. He was often able to RISE above adversity.

Justin’s name was also mentioned in the program for the Kaddish prayer along with both families revered departed. Saying Kaddish for a deceased loved one is an ancient Jewish tradition. Kaddish is an act of loving-kindness towards the departed’s soul, enabling that soul to ascend to the higher realms. Darrell and I were so touched by this love for Justin shared during the rites of passage for Mikey. It was our honor to witness this special occasion with Lori and David’s closet family and friends.



Weeks earlier I had received a message from a young lady whom we met after attending the 2013 Student Diversity and Leadership Conference (SDLC). She is a graduating senior at a local high school. During this past year, she has come to know about the spirit of Justin. She met him briefly in December of 2012 at the SDLC conference. They were standing in line to meet the Astronaut ,Dr. Bernard Harris. Justin let everyone go ahead of him because he wanted to be the last one to speak to him. He was so excited about meeting him that he sent me a picture of them together. Justin loved this conference. He came home and said “ Mom, it is ok to be me!”

Lora told me that she was selected to give the sermon at All Saint’s Episcopal Church on Sunday as part of the Youth Day Program. She wanted to know if it was ok to reference Justin when she spoke. I agreed, and told her that I did not think I could come into the church (where we held Justin’s service) but I would watch it online. When I mentioned it to Darrell, he said he wanted to go. So we surprised her. This girl is brilliant and the way she weaved Justin into her message was beautiful. I could not see clearly see at all through the tears after she finished. The Rector Ed Bacon gave Lora a blessing since she was graduating and also gave a blessing for Justin, because he too should have been a graduating senior. I was so glad that we were there to witness this young mind speak so passionately about her life, beliefs and goals. Here are portions of her Sermon:

“I Dream A World Of Eternal Life
“I dream a world where one/No other one will scorn, /Where love will bless the earth/And peace its paths adorn” These words, based on the Langton Hughes poem, I Dream a World, are part of a piece we sang in Trouvéres my eighth grade year. This utopian world that Hughes dreams of is the same as the eternal life Jesus refers to in today’s gospel. In today’s gospel, Jesus turns to God and begs, “Give eternal life, to all you have given to me. ” This eternal life that Jesus is referring to does not mean immortality, but rather he is describing a quality of life, to be able to truly live, a joyous life, a peaceful life, a purposeful life that begins here and now, in this lifetime. Furthermore, eternal life is not only experienced on an individual basis–Global eternal life is all about the interdependence and interconnection of all of humanity. In this oneness nobody is excluded; everyone belongs, everyone is always welcome.

In that room at the SDLC conference, I found eternal life—that unquenchable drive to soar—within me and around me. In this context, eternal life is not so much a lifestyle or mindset, but an atmosphere. Just as a chrysalis incubates a young caterpillar as it transforms into a soaring butterfly, this conference was like my chrysalis. This transformational experience marked my re-emergence into this world as a new and revitalized person and set the tone for what I see as my purpose in this world. I finally understood who I am and learned how to accept that. Living this purposeful life, doing what I have been put on this earth to do, is bringing the kingdom of heaven into the here and now.

Two years ago, while standing in line at the SDLC to take a picture with Dr. Bernard Harris—the first African American astronaut—I met a young man named Justin Carr. Justin understood global eternal life better than anyone I had ever met before. Since a young age, his dream had been to achieve world peace and he had done far more than the average 16-year old to reach this goal by ensuring that everyone felt included and cared for. This past year I learned that Justin’s dreams had been curbed when he passed away from idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But Justin’s eternal life did not begin posthumously. Through small actions, like the way he constantly looked out for his friends, treated everyone with respect, and boldly refused to fall victim to a society that tries to put everyone into boxes, Justin lived an eternal life that continues to inspire all of us to do the same. It is not always the monumental, heroic acts that define one’s eternal life. Sometimes it is the smaller acts of goodness and authenticity that are the key to a true, genuine, eternal life.”

Justin, on your would be graduation day, we will RISE UP proudly and accept your diploma for you honey. You are an angel in the heavens across the faiths from Catholic to Jewish to Episcopal. This is what world peace is about. When others can state their love, show their love and welcome you into their place of worship without hesitation

These experiences were true and really happened. Justin is in the hearts and minds everywhere, not just within me. JUSTIN’S NAME HAS RISEN WITHIN THE WALLS OF VARIOUS RELIGIOUS FAITHS’.

As Molly sang in her song she wrote for Justin “Butterfly,” “You were the best, and you did not know it” I hope you know it now baby…


I will love you Always and Forever,


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