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To Gwendolyn Dow, her slain son is much more than Casualty No. 36, Year 2006

It long ago faded into the mist for most of us. It is nine years this month since the night Lamonte Dow was shot down. Many other innocent bystanders have since been caught in crossfires, collateral damage in drug gang wars. Higher odds of death are the cost of living in some neighborhoods. Innocents die. New victims replace old ones. Outrage seldom lingers.

For a mother, it’s different. Nine years seem like a blink. The tears still flow. The ache remains. The pain might dull if her son’s killer was caught. But that hasn’t happened, either.

“I’ve accepted that I have to live with this until I die,” Gwendolyn Dow told me.

She is a handsome woman with deep eyes and a soft voice who looks years younger than 64. She lives in a pristine apartment on a shady street of stately homes, an East Side oasis seemingly lifted from Amherst. Widowed before Lamonte’s death, she raised five kids on a substitute teacher’s salary.

Lamonte, her middle child, was a college student and musician working for HSBC Bank. Fresh off the local success of his rap group’s CD, the next step was college in the hip-hop hotbed of Atlanta. The music that kept him off the streets was about to take him places.

He was among a street-corner crowd celebrating the July 4 holiday when a car rolled up, the “pop pop pop” mimicking firecrackers. The young man who minded his two younger siblings, who helped with laundry and monthly bills, who never forgot Mother’s Day and baked peanut butter cookies, lay bleeding in the street. He was three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

“The first two weeks after his death, I slept in his bed every night,” his mother recalled. “I watched every home video. I gathered every photograph. I didn’t leave the house.”

It didn’t ease her pain when a guy with gang connections later apologized to her son Michael for Lamonte’s shooting. It was an accident, a wrong place/wrong time moment. The young man who – not likely, but who knows? – could’ve been the next Kanye West was an unintended casualty of the Fillmore vs. Wohlers territorial drug war.

“To walk your child to the grave is a living hell,” Gwendolyn Dow said.

She emerged from the hollows because she had to. Her four kids and grandkids needed her. Inertia wasn’t an option. She joined a support group, ventured outside, pulled out of the emotional quicksand.

Nine years later, stabbing pain has become dull ache. The wound has scabbed into a scar. Justice, though, is no closer. The investigating detective has retired. A police spokesman did not return calls by deadline on the status of the case. In the official record, Lamonte Dow was No. 36 of 73 Buffalo homicides in 2006, one of 17 regarded as “innocent bystanders.” Collateral damage.

This is what Gwendolyn Dow cannot stomach. Not for her son. Not for the parent of any innocent victim. She is a living, breathing, testifying reminder that the ripples of any tragedy spread through the years. That the casualty count includes families and friends. That the missing piece is never filled. And that crime doesn’t always end in punishment.

“There are people in the community who know what happened,” she said. “Someone fired that gun. Someone drove that car. Someone made that plan.

“This whole thing about ‘not snitching’ is ridiculous,” she added. “I’m told that my son’s last words were ‘Help me.’

“So help him now. Come forward.”

The Buffalo police confidential tip line, for anyone with information and a conscience, is 847-2255

Gwendolyn Dow wipes her eyes, looks away, not wishing to impose grief on a visitor. July – when Lamonte was born, and died – is the cruelest month. Over the years, every graduation, every wedding, every baby born to their extended family was both cause for celebration and grim reminder. Lamonte didn’t live long enough to get a diploma, find a wife, have a child or go where music would’ve taken him. His clock stopped, long before his time.

Officially, he is a number, a statistic. Casualty No. 36, Year 2006. Innocent victim, case unsolved.

He is much more than that. They all are.

Ask their mothers.