HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Clearly, the Hanover County murder of Brett Wells has devastated his family and friends.
But what about the teens who have been charged and are facing the possibility of growing old in prison?
They have families too, people who care about them and hoped for bright futures.
For one of them, an urban missionary who loved one of the 18-year-old suspects like a son, the news is heartbreaking.
But is also a message to stay the course.
“I moved here six and a half years ago,” said Marti Michalec Williams as she walked through one of the tougher North Richmond neighborhoods.
Back then, she was single, a bank specialist for Wells Fargo, when she moved on Barton Avenue in the Southern Barton Heights neighborhood.
“I had no idea what God had in store,” she said, surrounded by homes built 100 years ago, some of them boarded up.
Marti said she simply wanted to live the Bible verse John 1:14, which says, in essence: “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”
Hers was a new home. Youngsters came by to see if she had any children. Terence Talley was among those first youngsters.
“She offered us some cookies,” recalled Terence, now a sophomore at John Marshall High School. “Ever since then we’ve gone over to her house all the time.”
Some of the youths call Miss Marti their “white mom.” Terrence calls her his godmother. She offers them a place to visit, eat, talk and explore their faith. Roughly 40 or so young souls have been regular visitors over the years. Adults from the area gather for dinner and fellowship on Thursday nights.
She discovered her future husband four years ago during a shooting right outside her back door. A man from the neighborhood was shot nine times while the Rev. Louis Williams was visiting their house during their fourth date.
They called 911 and ran out to render aid. The man survived.
“Louis decided to came back after that,” Marti recalled, “the next day, and I was like, ‘all right, I’ve got to consider this dude pretty seriously.’”
Louis fit right into the mission. Terrence, for example, saw part of his future snapping into focus when he started taking photographs around the neighborhood with Louis’ camera. He’s got quite a portfolio and plans to become a photographer.
But perhaps it was inevitable that someone in Marti’s extended family got into trouble.
One of the suspects in the Brett Wells slaying, 18-year-old Xavia Highsmith, was a regular visitor to her house when he was younger.
“He was over quite a bit,” Marti recalled. “When he was over here, he was really a special kid.
“These kids are like my own, and I love them like they’re my own,” she added. “Of course it broke my heart to know that could be a possibility.”
She declined to discuss any other details about Xavia out of respect for all the families involved.
The heartbreaking news hasn’t left Miss Marti with any doubt about her mission. Both she and her husband know they’re right where they belong.
“I’m just really touched by what I see, just being part of a community that I can love, and that loves me back.”
You can read futher about the Williams’ mission at http://missmartishouse.com