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Valerie Mility

When we moved to California from Texas, we just knew we were going to embark on the best adventure of our lives. I am a nurse and I took a job in California because I wanted my family safe. I wanted my boys to be able to enjoy their lives without the dangers of the world hanging over their shoulders. When we thought of California, we imagined a place sunny, happy and full of life.

When we arrived, we immediately met friends we knew we would keep for a lifetime. I love my boys so, and we love God, and it was nice to meet people who expressed the same concern and love.

The boys were invited to play in a basketball camp, which they loved, and this allowed us to meet more friends. Through them, we were introduced to a wonderful church, Valley Bible Fellowship. I was enjoying my job as a nurse in the emergency department of a Bakersfield hospital. My husband was able to score a job, though the economy is troubled, that he enjoyed. We were all happy -- what more could we ask for?

Then, this devastating event took place. It was just so unreal when a police officer knocked on my door and delivered the message.

"Do you have a son by the name of Derrick Duff?"


"Can you please have a seat?" As I sat, he said, "Your son was involved in a motor vehicle accident which caused him to be ejected from the vehicle. And he is no longer with us."

The feelings that rushed through my body were so intense. I said, "Wow, my son did not survive? We did not move here for this!"

I ran to my other son's room, where he and a friend were asleep. I snatched the covers from them and yelled, "Derrius, Derrick did not survive! Help me! He did not survive!" I then began to call family and friends to deliver this unimaginable story.

But I soon learned I was not alone. After people began to hear of Derrick's passing, my home was filled with love. People started to pour into the house. The whole Highland High School basketball team, coaches, friends, neighbors and co-workers. It was amazing! Flowers, plants, money, meals, cards and pictures were delivered to us. I swear, for two weeks Derrius and I were never alone. For this I am so grateful. People would come just to pray with us, read Bible verses to us, comfort us, hold us. Babette and Elijah never left our side. The Romero family offered so much of themselves. The donations, the support, the love was endless.

My director called and said, "What do you need?" When I told her, she called back within hours to inform me that Dignity Health will pay all expenses for the care and transportation of my son to our home state of Illinois to be buried. My church hosted an awesome memorial with food, at no expense to us. Our friends at Highland High held a wonderful candlelight vigil. People I did not even know came with food, hugs and prayers. My favorite restaurant, Rosa's Italian, donated food, and people donated money through Kern Schools Federal Credit Union.

Wow -- this community is awesome. I don't know how to thank you all.

I know Derrick is in a great place where he is smiling and happy. God is good! A mother's wish came true: My child is safe, free of pain, and not suffering. And I know I will see him again, so I am OK. Derrick D. Duff Jr. will not be forgotten.

Valerie Mility, an emergency room nurse in Bakersfield, is the mother of Derrick Duff, a high school basketball star who was killed March 30 in a single-vehicle accident on Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.