Justin Back’s 2016 Be A Hero 5k Walk/Run

This is the second annual 5k we are having in Justin’s honor to raise money for two scholarships at Waynesville High School and the Warren County Career Center. From last year’s run, we were able to award each school with $1500.00 each. Without sponsorship, we would not be able to create this event. We want to thank Waynesville Pharmacy and Peoples Bank for their three star donation at $500.00 and Waynesville McDonald’s at the two star donation at $250 and all the one star donations at $100.00. You can register at Speedy Feet https://www.speedy-feet.com/race-entry.php?id=1501 To guarantee a shirt, please register by May 31, 2016. The event starts at 8am June 11th at the Waynesville Middle School. See you there!

Waynesville Pharmacy-1

Peoples Logo

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Soul Searching and What To Do With It

It has been almost a year and a half since we have lost Justin. During this time, I have met with other mothers who have also lost a child, in a variety of ways. Some through car accidents, some through illness or overdose and some where someone else took their child’s life, like Justin. I have learned that grief is the same, but we just deal with it differently and there are different things that we must deal with in the aftermath. For example, we will possibly have a lifetime of court appeals and trials. I have accepted that I may never have “closure” with that. I have accepted that there may never be remorse from the two individuals who took Justin’s life. I have accepted that this is now my life. I have also learned that I can have some sort of happiness and Justin can still be a part of that.

I bet you’re asking…”What?” I did too, actually. Through my soul searching, I realized that I can smile and laugh. It is okay. I recently realized that I have some sort of happiness. This made me feel guilty. Then I came to the conclusion that Justin is STILL a part of that happiness. Just in a different way. Instead of focusing on the memories I will no longer create or have with Justin, I have decided that I will be focusing on the memories I CAN still create with honoring him. For example, we hosted a 5K run/walk to raise money for the two scholarship funds that we give in Justin’s name. It was created for families to spend some time together, be fit and remember a wonderful young man who is so dear to this little community. It was so touching to see that many families participated. One dad came across the finish line pulling his two little ones in a wagon. That is an image that will forever stay with me. Justin’s run was called, Justin Back’s Be A Hero 5K. That to me was a Hero image. This is a happy memory that is being made with Justin.

You see, your loved one is still with you. They are forever a part of you. They helped to make you who you are. Yes, even your children. Justin’s story isn’t over yet. It is defined by me, by his siblings, by his friends, his community and the list goes on. Where has my Soul Searching led me? It has led me to help students that are in need of personal necessities, create Be A Hero, Inc. to spread Justin’s “Hero” qualities, advocate for stronger sentencing on premeditated murders, to help create awareness on things that are attacking our youth, etc.

Please share where your Soul Searching has led you.


New Layers of Grief

We have officially gone through all the “firsts.” Some days were easier than others and some was pure torture. I can’t sit here and tell you that things are any easier but I CAN tell you that I have learned how to deal with many things. Not to say that things don’t catch me off guard because they do. I can’t say that I am happy but I can smile and laugh and actually mean it! It’s not everyday but they are there. I can now say I have had a good day. A lot of times they are followed by a few really bad days but I know a good day will be coming soon. So my advise to others going through grief, hang on to those good days because early on, they are few and far in between. I am not saying this to discourage anyone but grief is real and it’s a hard journey but you can enjoy the blessings that are out there for you. The further you WORK through the stages of your grief, (it doesn’t go away on its own) you one day realize that you had a good day and they are more frequent but different than before. You are learning to live a different life.

After dealing with the holidays and Justin’s birthday, he would have been 20 yrs old, new layers of grief have been revealed. I have decided it is time for counseling again. In my previous posts, you see that I believe in faith and counseling. There for awhile, there was nothing new that I was going in with so I didn’t feel the need. Now there is. Some old things have resurfaced that I need to learn to work through, again. They aren’t as bad as they were before. I have now come to the understanding that I have to let some things go. The thing I have to let go is not understanding why Justin went through what he went through in his last moments. I’ll never understand it and, to tell you the truth, I can’t see any reason good enough to lose Justin. See why I have CHOSEN to work through something that is holding me back from the good of Justin? All the good memories we have of him, his voice, his laughter. Everything Justin! I know that Justin wants good and happiness for his family. That’s who Justin was and always will be. Today Danny Goeke’s song, “There’s Hope in Front of Me,” keeps going through my head. That may be God and Justin’s way of saying there is more good to come. God bless and I hope to hear from you because I know that I am not alone in grief. Is there anything that could help me or someone else?

Justin Back: Be a Hero 5K Run/Walk

Please join us for the 1st annual Justin Back: Be a Hero 5K Run/Walk.

This fun run will be held on June 6, 2015, starting and finishing at Waynesville High School. All proceeds will go toward the Justin Back Memorial Scholarship Fund.

We are currently looking for businesses and individuals who would like to help sponsor the race. If you would like to help in any way (sponsoring or volunteering your time), please contact Sandy at 513.464.8833 or Jodee at 513.850.3683. It would be a great way to PAY IT FORWARD, JUSTIN STYLE!

Here is a link to the registration form. You can print this and mail it with your payment. 2015_Be_a_Hero_5k_Entry

You can also register online at www.speedyfeet.com.

We look forward to cheering you across the finish line!

-The Justin Back Be a Hero Team


Nine months into Justin’s passing, Jacob (Justin’s brother), told me that he felt forgotten. Jake is a Marine that is away from home. He and I was talking and he opened up to me. It broke my heart to hear that. I’d never want one of my children thinking they were forgotten or not thought of. I had even read about this in grieving pamphlets and tried my best not to allow this to happen. There were times that I had to remind myself I have another child. That I am NOT the only one going through this. Grief is greedy and all consuming. I write this to make everyone aware that there are other children you have to be there for. Jake, and Justin’s other siblings, are dealing with their grief in there own way. If adults have a hard time with getting some kind of understanding how can a young person?

I had to make a mental note that I have to call Jake. To inform him about what was happening in the trial of one of the assailants that took his brother’s life. With Jake being away, it was harder on him. I am so glad that Jake opened up to me about his feeling left out. I needed to hear it and I know it wasn’t easy for him or me. Jake doesn’t always open up to me and it meant a lot that he did. During this tragic journey, I have learned that you have to be open about your grief. It is so important to let others know what you’re feeling and what you’re going through. Talking about grief is taboo but it’s because we feel we have to be strong all of the time. No, you just lost someone who meant the world to you!!

What can I do to change this?

I call Jake more
I think of ways to include Jake in things at home
When we are planning events, I try to make it when Jake can make it home
Make quality time for him

Talking about Justin together isn’t easy but we are getting to where we can share about him. This will take some time and healing. Parents, spend some one and one with each child and be age appropriately open with your child. Again, I strongly suggest counseling. It has helped us so much.

What are some other ideas to share with other parents?

What Are You Doing to Honor Your Loved One?

I have chosen to plant a memorial tree and a lily in front of Justin’s bedroom window. There are other things that I have done or will be doing to honor Justin and his legacy. We have created two scholarship programs for the two schools he graduated. To raise money for these scholarships, we are having an annual balloon launch, 5k run and car shows to start off with. To make a difference in the community, I am planning on a “Be a Hero” campaign to help community children become the best they can be by continuing the “hero” qualities that Justin possessed. Justin wasn’t afraid to say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Justin helped others as much as possible and was always spreading joy and laughter.

Losing Justin has changed our lives beyond belief. Justin was such a huge “force” in our family that now there is a void as big as he was. Everyday I try my best to honor Justin by being the best I can be and “Be a Hero” to someone by doing something he’d do. Another phrase you’ll hear in Waynesville is “Pay it forward, Justin style!” It is so hard to continue on but it has helped this mother by doing something for my baby.

How do you honor your loved one?

Sandy Cates

Continuing the Legacy

Justin was such a remarkable young man that touched so many people’s hearts in our community. The loss of a child is the most horrific thing that can happen to a parent, in my opinion. What can I do to honor him and have him remembered? This is the answer that I and some of my wonderful group of ladies that have held me up during my rocky journey. One was creating a Facebook page for Justin. I write letters to him, post pictures, write stories about my life with him and little fun facts. We have a balloon launch happening where we can celebrate Justin’s life and raise money for the memorial scholarship fund given in his name. I have created the “Be a Hero” campaign based on the amazingly positive qualities that he possessed. Justin was a hero in many ways and lived his life honorably and with integrity. I want to get with our schools and work with the small children to help those that need that extra help. I always talk about Justin, everywhere I go. I was in a local shop and the clerk and I was talking about Justin and what had happened to him. She brought up the July 4th parade, or 5th in our town. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea at first. Would people think I was trying to get recognition or make a show out of what happened? With much thought and consideration, after talking with my friends, I decided to promote the “Be a Hero” campaign. The point of this blog is that Justin left such a positive legacy that I feel compelled to keep it going and help other young people live their lives in such an honorable manner. I am so blessed to have a wonderful child that made good, healthy choices. Justin Back led by example. What have you done to continue the positive legacy your loved one left behind?

This is Justin Back in his gear for his Fire Science class at the Warren County Career Center

This is Justin Back in his gear for his Fire Science class at the Warren County Career Center


Time stood still for the longest time for Mark and I when we found out that we had been robbed and our son was missing. Then the next morning, we were told of Justin’s fate. He had been found but had been brutally murdered. I will always remember the moment Sheriff Sims told us they had found Justin but he is “deceased.” How can you say my son’s name along with that horrific word? Our worst nightmare had come true. Justin’s body was released that following Friday. The minute hand of the clock just didn’t move anymore. A month goes by, bills have to be paid. Why? Nothing matters. How can I possibly deal with that mundane task? Don’t you know my son died? Don’t you care? Then you realize I have to do this. We are still here and have no other choice but to do what we have to do. We stayed at a hotel until the crime scene cleanup crew was finished and the walls were painted. You paint different colors so you aren’t walking into a house where the time had stayed the same as the day he lost in his life in our kitchen. We walk in, no carpet in the living room and no flooring in the kitchen. Most of everything we owned was in boxes, being cleaned or taken by the Crime Scene Unit. Other items that were missing were taken by the two men that killed Justin. We moved back into our home because that is where we have our wonderful family memories. They took enough from us; I was NOT going to allow them to take Justin away totally. About two months after we lost him, you see everyone’s lives going on as normal as a HUGE part of your world is stuck on this hamster wheel, just trying to make sense of it all. That time is still standing still but now you are being forced to getting a “normal” routine down. It’s the last thing you want to do. It is enough to make you lose your mind for a time. You aren’t but it definitely feels that way! Closer to the third month, Easter rolled around. This was the day that I noticed that time no longer stood still for me. It was a day of acceptance. I won’t get a call from him like I did his brother. Justin was getting ready to leave for the Navy shortly after this happened. He would have been in FL for A school for his skill training. Easter was a defining moment in my grieving. It is hard to comprehend that he has been gone for three months. The length of time seems shorter and longer at the same time. Now our days are moving at the same pace as everyone else, but our life is totally different than many.

Sandy Cates

My Firsts

My son, Justin, passed away January 28, 2014. It has been almost five months without him. Time has stood still and moved on at the same time. We have been told that all the “firsts” are the hardest. Hard isn’t the word that I would use. I would most likely use these words to explain it: Hell, pure torture, yearning (for that loved one to come back) and heart wrenching.

Justin’s 19th birthday would have been February 13th. During this time, I was still in shock and didn’t feel the true impact of the day. Easter was the first holiday without him. The numbness had ceased to exist at this point. Justin was leaving for the Navy three days before his birthday so in my mind, that is where he was, in Illinois for boot camp. That wasn’t the case. On Easter, our son, Jake (who is a Marine) called to wish us a happy holiday. When I got off the phone with him I half expected a phone call that I have yet to receive from Justin. This was the first day of true acceptance for me. Justin is gone.

The first Mother’s Day was better than I was expecting, only because Justin’s friends came in his place. I don’t think that these young men and women knew the true impact they had on me that day. We talked about and laughed about Justin. It brought him closer to me for that moment in time. “I’m here with you, Mom. See. Don’t be sad.” Boy, is he mistaken. I carry sadness with me every day but am able to find some blessing in each passing moment.

For those who are grieving, these firsts will take you by surprise. You won’t really know how the day or event will affect you. I am very vocal about my journey to help myself and others around me. By telling others, “I’m not sure if I will be able to stay due to…” and “bad day” if I couldn’t talk about it at that particular time or tell them why if I could.

I’m writing this to help others understand that these “firsts” are so hard but you can survive them by being prepared as much as possible and communicating, even when you don’t want to. I know that I am not the only who has gone through this. To help others, what are some of the things that happened and how you made your way through the one of the firsts?

-Sandra Cates

Justin was a handsome little man.

Justin was a handsome little man.

Remembering Those We Have Lost

We never forget those we have lost. Their names are forever etched in hearts. Many people do things to honor their lost loved one in some way. Some people plant a tree, create a scholarship at their loved one’s school, plan an annual walk or run, etc. It takes time to figure out what you want to do.

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Mark and I with young Justin, Jake and Dakota

A couple of our friends suggested creating a remembrance Facebook page for my son, Justin Back. I have seen other pages like this, and I decided to make ours into something that is positive to share with others. I love to talk about my children… always have. So what I do is post pictures of our [three] boys at different ages and tell a story to go with each image. We live in a very small community in Ohio and Justin touched so many lives with his bright smile and positive outlook. Thanks to our Facebook page, those who didn’t know Justin before sure know him now! I have had such a positive response to our page, with people asking me to keep it going because it inspires them. This is such a compliment to me because Justin was amazing and left quite the legacy for just being 18 years old. You can follow our Facebook page HERE.

Another thing that I have done is to create a book filled with all of the good memories of Justin. Justin has two brothers, Jake and Dakota. This memory book can be given to their future children, the nieces and nephews who will not have the honor of knowing their Uncle Justin, a true hero.

We also created this website to help others during the grieving process, as well as to provide education and awareness so that tragedies such as ours may be prevented.

Because Justin’s life was taken from him (and from us), we are working on passing stricter laws for sentencing once someone is convicted of murder. We will share more information about Justin’s Law as it surfaces.

In addition to the work and projects above, we are organizing a balloon launch as well as a 5k walk/run to raise funds for The Justin Back Memorial Scholarship Fund.

All of this, we do to honor Justin.

Some other ideas:

Create botanical garden in your loved one’s honor.  Every time you care for the garden, you will think of the child or sibling who has passed.

Have a plaque made with his/her name on it and place in a special place.

If he/she liked to run, as Justin did, then become a runner! This makes me think of him every time I run. He is urging me on.

Make a memory shadow box filled with special things that remind you of your child. i.e. medals, toys, pictures, etc.

Make a blanket out of your loved one’s t-shirts so that you can keep it close to you.

Remember, it takes time to get to the point where you can plan memorial projects and events. In the beginning of your journey, all you can think of is what you have lost, just as I did. 

What are some other ways to honor the loss of a loved one? I would love to hear them and remember, your ideas may help someone else!