Justin Little: Remembering local youth murdered in Paris

November 2009 Posted in People

By Kathy Cook Hunter

Justin Little was “a wanderer,” his mother, Tanya Little, said. He loved to explore and often walked from his home in Silverton to Salem or to the Abbey in Mt. Angel. His wanderlust and interest in history led him to Paris in September.

Early in October he met his end there. Children found him dead on a park bench, the American embassy in Paris told his Silverton family on Oct. 9. “He had been there awhile,” his father, Jim Little, said. “It is difficult to learn more.”

Justin had been bludgeoned in the head by a hard object, possibly a piece of concrete or cinder block, Paris police said. His wallet was gone, but his passport was left with him, making identification possible.The police asked Jim Little to come to Paris but he declined in consideration of the remaining family members – his wife; Justin’s brothers, Joseph, 16, and Jimmy,  13; and a sister, Bessie, 11. He felt, he said, there was little he could do there and the FBI had taken over the investigation.

Justin, a 2006 graduate of Silverton High School, was studying at Chemeketa Community College. He had spent last summer working and living with an uncle in Oregon City. He was a typical 21-year-old who was not thinking of his safety, his parents said.

“He’d done a lot of scouting and was resourceful, not afraid, very capable,” his father said. “But he made an error in judgment – he was in the wrong place.”

People have asked why he was at this particular park, Tanya Little said. “There might have been a historical tie-in to that park,” she said. “I know in my heart he was looking for something. Maybe he’d read about it.”  She said France’s historical figures were “almost friends he’d read and studied about.” Although Justin did not speak French, he had familiarized himself with the language with tapes before he left. He knew no one in France.

Justin’s friend, Kevin Zade, had discussed the trip with him and helped plan it. Zade’s only email from Justin was dated Sept. 24; the Little family had not heard from him.

The Littles tried to convince their son not to travel alone, but “nothing we could do would change his mind,” Jim Little said. “He was there to see things like Napoleon’s tomb and the Arc (de Triomphe). He wanted to go beyond his hometown and his upbringing.”

“We tried to find out where he was staying but the police were not able to find out,” said Jim Little.
Support from community and St. Paul Catholic Church, has been tremendous.

“We are praying a lot and people are praying for us for peace of heart,” he said. “We’re very grateful for the people of this community. We’re uplifted – we’re not alone.”

Andy Bellando, former principal of Mark Twain Middle School, described Justin as well liked and intelligent.

“He was an independent thinker, loved his history and overall did well in school. He was well behaved, liked by his friends and was well-respected by all of his teachers. He will be missed.”

The Littles named their son’s interests as history, anime, theater and Civil War re-enactment where participants dress in garb of the era, act out battles and portray life during the 1860s in America.

“He got the whole bunch of us involved in (reenactment), too,” they said, and agreed that, had Justin lived, he’d have found a career with a history or political science link.

“He was a young man ready to spread his wings and fly,” said his mother.

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