Columbus Ohio boy's unsolved killing haunts family

16-year-old son, Garrett Burton was fatally shot over a year ago and the case remains unsolved. George Burton Jr., Garrett's father, still drives past the wooden crosses that mark the spot of his son's death -- often twice a week, always in the early morning, with Hilliard-Rome Road unfolding before him as dark as it was the night Garrett was killed.

He doesn't linger at the spot just north of W. Broad Street. But whenever the 52-year-old Columbus police officer wraps up his West Side special-duty job, he goes out of his way to pass the crosses.

"It's been every time," he said. "It's just my way of dealing with it."

Garrett Burton was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery after a funeral that drew hundreds. Family and friends will gather again, from 3 to 6 p.m. today, at his plot in Section 119. During the candlelight vigil, Patti Burton will unveil a marble memorial bench for her son.

The year that has passed has brought nearly unbearable grief and nagging frustration, the latter shared by the homicide squad committed to finding Garrett's killer.

Sgt. Dana Norman said his squad is stuck.

Police had little to go on from the start. The small group with Garrett that night told officers they scattered in panic after the shooting, and they gave only limited information to investigators.

On the night her son died, Patti Burton said, he had gone out with a trusted older friend who promised they'd be back by Garrett's midnight curfew. Instead, he took Garrett to a house with other young adults whom Garrett didn't know.

At some point, a group of five crossed Hilliard-Rome Road into a row of evergreens to toss eggs at cars. The others told police that a man on foot came out of nowhere, confronted Garrett and shot him. Police have considered a number of theories. The killer could have come from an egged car, although the young men didn't see or hear one stop. He might have been a resident of the surrounding neighborhood, angered by the mischief. Or, perhaps, something else entirely was going on that night.

In December 2006, police responded to the slaying of 14-year-old Danny Crawford, who had been shot on the Hilltop after he and friends egged a sport-utility vehicle.

Crawford's death remains equally frustrating for police for a different reason: Detectives long have had a suspect but don't have enough evidence to charge him.

George Burton can't imagine who would resolve a teen prank with such violence.

"It's nothing you should be murdered for," he said. "This person had a million other options."

George and Patti Burton are divorced. Garrett lived on the Far West Side with his mother and older brother, Georden.

George Burton described his younger son as gentle, "a big teddy bear" eager to become a man. "Coming into his own, as I want to put it," he said.

Garrett was always well-liked, Patti Burton said, but she remains stunned by the number of people she has met since his death who knew him. He went out of his way to make friends and to lend a hand when he could, whether it was buying lunch for a classmate or handing down a basketball jersey to someone who could wear it.

"Garrett always knew when something was wrong with somebody," said Lacey Lykins, 19, who met Garrett through Georden during her freshman year at Westland High School. "He was known to be the little Care Bear of the school."

Lykins is helping Patti Burton with the memorial vigil, sending out 600 online invitations. She, too, struggled with Garrett's death, leaning on her mother for comfort and advice before deciding that Garrett would have wanted her to start smiling again.

"You have to pick up and go on," she said. "You just got to suck it up and get it goin'."

At first, Patti Burton refused to believe that her son was dead. "I called the detectives that night liars," she said.

She cried daily and grew angry with the Lord. She felt cheated. "I have served children and their families for 32 years," said the first-grade teacher at Highland Elementary School on the Hilltop, "and I said, 'Why was my son taken? Where were the angels that night?"'

But she couldn't remain angry. "I had to get it together."

She returned to church. "You can't reverse it," George Burton said. "You just try to do your best to push through it.