From Tragedy to Triumph

by Denise C Wilkins
(Alexandria, Virginia)

Me and Justin

Me and Justin

Me and Justin
Trusting God and Moving Forward
Justin Just Before He Left

Click each photo to enlarge

It was approximately 8:00 am on Sunday morning, February 28, 2010, when I received a call that no mother ever expects to receive. The voice on the other side of the phone says, "I am the weekend doctor at Central State Mental Hospital's Forensic Unit, and I am calling to inform you that this morning your son Justin was found dead in his bed." All I remember is dropping the phone, falling to the floor, making it to the bed in my room; I was rolling and screaming at the top of my lungs, "My baby! My baby, no not my baby!"

My twenty-two year old son had developed a marijuana drug habit at the tender age of 13. He was using PCP by 14, and smoking dippers by the age of 22 also called "water". See for more info: He approached me afraid one day in October of 2009, and said, "Mom! I need help." I called every rehab I could find online, and, at the end of the day, I could not afford to put him into a private rehab. Justin would under normal circumstances never do anything to harm anyone, I found myself having to call the police to asked them if they would get him off the streets, because of his altered state of mind. Although Justin had gotten himself arrested on several occasions for pettie charges, he was not a convicted felon with a criminal mind. He was not known by friends, neighbors or others of being violent, but the drugs began to make him unstable in his behavior. He needed help. Therefore, I stepped into the role of catalyst for change in his life, to do whatever I could to get my son the help he needed, I had him arrested. After about six weeks in jail I begged to find out what was happening with him. I was finally told he was going through a terrible detox.

I spoke with the Jail's Mental Health Staff and begged them to help my son. They went before the Judge and got an order for Justin to be "restored". It made me happy that something was being done to help my son. I just knew that my baby was on his way to restoration. Justin was transferred to a minimum security mental facility in Staunton, Virginia, Western State Hospital. The doctor their could not seem to find the right medication for him, and he transferred him to Central State Mental Hospital, Forensic Unit, a maximum security hospital. Upon his arriving to Central State I met with the staff and asked if a man like Hannibal Lecter would be in a place like this, and was told, "yes this is where the Hannibal Lecter's come". I literally could not believe that they stuck my son in a place like that. But, I was reassured over and over, "that he would be fine, he is in great hands." He was given the right medication and within three to four weeks his condition stabilized. After a couple more weeks, I was told that he was doing great and would soon be coming home, I began to make exit plans for him and the family got excited with the thought of his return. But one week before he was due to come home, my boy was strangled to death in his bed. Our family will never be the same and my heart will always miss the spot where Justin lived, because he was not just my son, he was my friend.


After receiving the news, 8:00 am Sunday morning, I was sitting in a room full of people all talking about something; I could only hear muffled voices, not zeroing in on one conversation just sitting in a chair by the door, quiet, staring out into the sky, stunned by the news. My mind flashing back over the years I served God in ministry, reaching inner-city youth and the many young people that God used me to touch with His words of life. As I stare out, I hear my heart, in my thoughts...."why, why my son Lord?" and in the quiet of that personal moment between me an God, I heard God say, "Justin was a sacrificial Lamb!". It would be one year before I could embrace any part of what God said to me on that day, but, here I am today holding God's heart in my hand.

Today, God has made it clear that, first of all, my son is sharing heaven with his heavenly family now and just as Jesus was born to us to die, so was the life of my son. Through the death of Jesus, we find life eternal; through Justin's death, many youth and young adults will find an opportunity to live a greater life, and prayerfully a life in Christ. Jesus and Justin are linked in purpose, that is the comfort I live with today. Only knowing that in my sons death, many will find life, and in some funny way, The JUSTIN L. DAVIS FOUNDATION keeps my Justin's life, alive and active, with me, at all times in my heart.

The Justin L. Davis Foundation is a faith-based, non-profit prevention and intervention community organization, established in memory of Justin's life. Justin was a very intelligent, kind and compassionate young man who struggled with low self esteem, which led to a drug and alcohol addiction for nine years.

As we looked back over our family's journey, we realized that there were crucial key elements missing in our community, such as programs that address life-skills, strong social mentorship and FREE tutoring that provides caring support in the areas of academics; also the funding opportunities that make a private Holistic Rehabilitation and Detox Center possible for a family in distress. These programs and services build the character and confidence in our youth and young adults; empowering them to become healthy whole individuals, prepared to embark upon a world filled with opportunities.

We are aware that many families are living with the daily horrors of a child bound by the horrible disease of drug and alcohol addiction. The Justin L. Davis Foundation will provide families with the prevention and intervention community services that we believe will assist them through their struggles. We hope before you leave, that you will consider a donation towards the support of this organization and share our information with your family and friends.

For more information on Justin's life or the organization go to

Thank you, and May God Bless!

It is difficult to live with the pain of a loss. You go through SO many different emotions...

Avoiding the feelings of loss
Running from the pain
Looking back with guilt and regrets
Life looks different
Can't tolerate going to Church
Questioning your faith in God and His Word
Angry with God
Deep Depression
Life is over
Wanting to give up
Grasping for answers to why it happened
Can't see ministry in your future, which was once your heart and life
Your whole outlook on life changes

You must read books that provide you with answers. Always reaching for your healing, and pressing towards the goal of HOPE!

Comments for From Tragedy to Triumph

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Oct 05, 2011
It's Hard To Mend A Broken Heart
by: Helen

Hi Denise,
I'd like to thank you for sharing your story with me, I already feel as though you and I have so much more in common than just our grief.

You see, I too have (2) other children besides DeMorris, and like yourself with your son, he was the One that stood close by no matter what. I will share a short story with you: I am a Breast Cancer Survivor, when I began my Chemotherapy, DeMorris never missed a day sitting and waiting patiently during the (3) hours I received my Chemo everyday, he was right there, in spite of the hectic schedule he had earning his degree as a Carpenter at TSU.

When his classes ended he would come home to read the Bible to me because I was too weak to sit up and read it myself. Now you would think as a man there would be some things he'd draw the line on, not him, he'd even comb my hair, massage my swollen feet, and massage my neck and shoulders because I was developing a frozen shoulder.

Yes, indeed, I do have a Testimony, of the wonderful and marvelous things my Son did for me during 'OUR' Cancer Journey. He even lifted my Spirits beyond heights unimagined by waking me one night to share a vision that he said God had given him. He told me he'd been Praying and Fasting asking God to show him if I would die from the Cancer. He told me God took him across a large body of water and then instructed him to look back over his shoulder. He told me what he saw was me emerging from the water with a glow that was too bright to look at. He said he then found himself sitting at God's feet, and without looking up he asked again would I die, and God responded 'No', that I will not die from my Cancer, that was (12) years ago. I am a (12) year Survivor and I Give God the Glory and DeMorris the thanks for being my Intercessor.

I could go on telling of his good works, but there's just not enough time in the Universe to say it all. Again, thank you for sharing your story, I am deeply and sincerely sorry for your loss. DeMorris also died a horrible death, it was a home invasion, as he opened the door, he was shot once in the chest, even though he jumped out of a two story window, that one shot was fatal, it perforated a lung and he died gasping for breath, you've already read other parts of the story, a story that I will never be able to forget.

I wont tell you I (feel) your pain because the grief you feel for your child is different from the grief I feel for mine, when it's personal, no one knows it's depths, but I will say, I have (shared) your pain, I was where you are now, (3)years ago (your son only having been gone (1). Thank you for your 'listening' eyes.

I wrote a comment in telling of this 'Special Club' we as Grievers belong to, it's a club that No One wants to belong to or be a 'Member' of, if you don't mind, I'd like to send it to you, in some ways it helped me get to another stage of my Grief Process.

God Bless You and all of those Lives your Son touched during his short journey here on earth.


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