At William Dzialak's third birthday party in July, his family collected all the party balloons and released them into the sky.
The toddler stood and watched the balloons climb toward the heavens, until the last one disappeared from sight.
"Here they come, Daddy," the little boy said. "I love you."
William doesn't understand what happened to his father.
Almost two years ago, Timothy Dzialak, 25, died in a particularly gruesome homicide. He was shot in the chest, his body set on fire near railroad tracks in the city's Black Rock area.
His father's killers still are walking the streets of Buffalo. Someday, William will learn the truth. Family members hope and pray they can tell him that his father's killers have been brought to justice.
"I want my son's soul to be at rest, to know that justice was done," said Dzialak's mother, Louella. "I have to live with this every day while they (the killers) walk the streets. I have to go to the cemetery on Mother's Day to be with my son.
"And I want justice for that little boy."
The Dzialak family isn't waiting patiently for their loved one's killers to be arrested.
They've raised $10,000 in reward money, a figure boosted by another $1,000 from the Crime Stoppers program. They've lobbied with local newspapers to print articles about possible suspects. They're persistent and tenacious in dealing with Buffalo homicide detectives. And they're not shy about coming forward to plead with the public to help solve the murder.
"We know that people on the street know who was involved, that they're afraid to come forward," said Donna Wiewiorski, one of Mrs. Dzialak's sisters. "That makes it very difficult for us to have any kind of closure."
Homicide detectives are actively pursuing leads in the Dzialak murder, and Capt. Joseph Riga, the Homicide Bureau commander, said he's confident his detectives eventually will charge whoever was responsible.
Have they identified possible suspects?
"We believe that Timothy Dzialak was acquainted with whoever killed him," Riga said. "We've spoken with several individuals he had been with just prior to his death. We have not ruled out any of those people as suspects."
The motive hasn't been pinpointed, but Mrs. Dzialak has little doubt what it will turn out to be.
"The motive was revenge," she said.
"We're considering that as one of the possibilities," Riga said. "One of
the leads we're investigating is that Timothy Dzialak was the victim of a stabbing about six weeks prior to his death."
Riga confirmed that the man arrested in that stabbing was the father of one of the last people seen with Dzialak the night before he was killed. Dzialak's burned body was found near the railroad tracks off Chandler Street on the afternoon of Nov. 8, 1998.
That father, accused of stabbing Dzialak in the knee, reportedly died a few months after the Dzialak homicide.
The man's son, seen with Dzialak hours before the killing, was arrested recently and charged with the arson of a building, Riga also confirmed.
The burning of Dzialak's body remains a particularly troubling image for his family.
There's some consolation in the fact that detectives told the family that Dzialak died before he was burned. But not much.
"I'm crushed that they could be so mean and vicious to go back and burn him," his mother said. "What kind of people could do this? It's scary to think that they don't have a conscience, that they could sleep at night. Every day and night, I pray that someone will have the decency to come forward and make sure justice is done."
There's plenty of frustration for both the family and the Homicide Bureau -- especially after a tip that seemed so promising was bungled by other police officers.
In August, Wiewiorski, the victim's aunt, called Riga to ask about a gun that had been turned in to police, a gun found by someone a few houses from the home of one of the last people seen with Dzialak. Riga knew nothing about it.
Calls to other police officials revealed that the gun had been turned in to the Northwest District station, where it was found in a police officer's locker. The officer reportedly told his superiors that he inadvertently had left it in his locker. An internal investigation is continuing into that incident.
However, ballistics experts later determined that it wasn't the gun that killed Dzialak.
Riga understands why the Dzialaks feel so frustrated. They think they know who was involved, but no charges have been filed. Homicide files are filled with such cases.
"It's extremely frustrating sometimes when homicide detectives believe they know who is responsible for a murder but don't have quite enough proof to be able to charge that person," Riga said.
Dzialak's family doesn't paint the dead man as some kind of saint. The Bridgeman Street resident was a drinker and a party guy, who was seen drinking with four acquaintances a few hours before he was killed. But his loved ones said Dzialak had a soft spot for kids.
One day, he learned that a little boy living next door to his good friend really wanted a basketball. The next time he got paid, Dzialak bought a basketball for the boy. Another time, he got a used kid's bike, fixed it up and took it to a little boy who lived across the street, whose family couldn't afford a bike.
"That little kid cherished that bike," said Billie Mackey, another of Mrs. Dzialak's sisters.
While she waits for word that her son's murder has been solved, Mrs. Dzialak is consoled by the presence of her grandson. Family snapshots show that 3-year-old William looks almost exactly like his father did at the same age.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," she said of her grandson.
William loves to look at his father's photos. "There's Daddy," he says with delight. He likes to hold the photos and even kiss them.
The little boy lives with his mother, Amy Lafave, who was engaged to Dzialak. But he spends a lot of time with his father's family, especially his grandmother.
William refuses to let go of his father. Late at night, relatives hear him talking to his father. "God bless Mommy and Daddy," he says in his nightly prayers.
"Where is Daddy?" his grandmother asked him recently.
"He's up in the sky."