Family, friends describe Salem teen’s ‘awesome’ devotion to helping others
By SEAN BARRON
SALEM — “In one word, he was awesome. That’s the best word I can ever use to describe him.”
That encapsulates the feelings Casey Huffman has for his younger brother, Dustin, who, he said, had an uncanny ability to “bring light into any dark room.”
Unlike many teenagers, Dustin never sought popularity and strived to do what was right — even if it was unpopular, Casey Huffman recalled.
Several family members shared their grief and spoke Saturday from their Edgewood Drive home about Dustin, 17, who was killed Tuesday when he fell about 100 feet down an embankment while he and a friend took a break from work at Beaver Creek State Park.
Dustin was a stand-out member of Salem High School’s 4X200-relay track team, which won a state championship June 5 and 6 in Columbus.
His passions also included riding dirt bikes and listening to country music.
On or off the track, Dustin touched countless lives, family and friends have said.
Anyone who saw the movie “Pay it Forward” would have a good snapshot of the way Dustin lived, explained his mother, Michelle.
“He always did for others and expected nothing in return,” she said, fighting back tears.
The 2000 film starring Haley Joel Osment is about a seventh-grader who comes up with a plan to do good deeds for three people who, by way of payment, must each do something good for three other people. The positive deeds multiply, eventually affecting the entire world.
Michelle Huffman said she believes God gives people a chance to prove themselves and that Dustin did so in his short life.
At school, Dustin, who had just finished his junior year, was the “unofficial go-to guy,” meaning he would be pulled from class to fix a faucet that broke, for example, recalled his father, Dave.
As a youngster, Dustin developed a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility, as well as the esteem and trust of many, Dave Huffman explained.
Regardless of where he went, Dustin never failed to tell his parents he loved them, Dave Huffman said. The last text message Dustin sent to his father stated that, he noted.
Dustin’s family also includes his brother, Michael Newell, and sister, Mandy Huffman-McCarthy.
Before the family gathering, several hundred friends, relatives and teachers attended a 45-minute memorial service at First United Methodist Church, 224 S. Broadway Ave., to reflect on the impact Dustin had on their lives, school and community.
“Words won’t be enough” to try to make sense of the tragedy, the Rev. Douglas George, pastor, told the packed church.
The Rev. Mr. George, who officiated, praised Dustin’s friends for the way they’ve conducted themselves in the aftermath of the accident, saying their dignity and respect “are a kind thing to do for Dustin.”
The pastor also encouraged Dustin’s immediate and extended families to maintain hope and said he hopes they also find peace.
Mr. George reminded the congregation that such a loss can lead to healing, but that it’s something one never gets over. Similarly, many people look for closure after tragedy; but Dustin’s family likely won’t find it. Instead, he continued, it is hoped they will find peace.
Mr. George allowed people to stand and share memories, anecdotes and stories about Dustin.
One female friend read a letter to Dustin lamenting her deep sadness from the loss, cherishing her memories and extolling his virtues.
“You’re a true hero. The world needs more Dustin Huffmans,” it read in part.
To honor Dustin’s love of country music, Mr. George read lyrics to one of the teen’s favorite songs, Brad Paisley’s “When I Get Where I’m Going.” The ceremony ended with the playing of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.
Off to one side was a picture collage depicting Dustin from when he was a baby to him running in recent track meets.
After the service, Dustin was interred at Grandview Cemetery off state Route 344, where country music singer Cheyenne West gave two versions of “Amazing Grace” and hugged several family members. She also sang “I Will Remember You“ by Sarah McLachlan.
West had been shooting a music video in the area when she heard about Dustin’s death and decided to honor his memory by giving a free concert Wednesday at Salem Junior High School.
The singer announced her plans for another benefit concert Aug. 21, which would have marked Dustin’s 18th birthday. Proceeds will go toward the Dustin Huffman Track Scholarship. The location has yet to be determined.
West also said she intends to dedicate her new compact disc in Dustin’s memory.
Michelle Huffman said she was grateful Dustin’s red coffin was transported in the back of a large, black Dodge diesel truck, the type she called “his dream truck.” Dustin was working 12- to 14-hour days for A-1 Tree Service Inc. of Salem to save money to buy such a vehicle, his father said.