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Sunday, July 20, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Large / Times staff columnist

The sad story of Aaron Roberts gets even sadder

News is a funny thing. Something bursts into headlines, stays there awhile then disappears from public consciousness, but the story doesn't stop for the people involved.

The other day I spoke with Deloris Roberts, who wanted to add something to the public part of her family's story.

Two years ago, May 31, 2001, her son Aaron was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer. Aaron Roberts had been pulled over in a traffic stop, and the two officers involved said he pulled one of the officer's arms into the car and tried to drive away. The other officer, fearing for his partner's safety, shot Roberts.

Deloris Roberts' Central area home is tidy, clean and full. Paintings and other art cover her walls, figurines fill a glass cabinet, and potted plants grow all around her living room. One of anything is not enough for her. I count four earrings in her right ear; seven bracelets adorn her right arm.

While we talk her eyes shed more tears than I can count, because for all her desire to hold onto things, to fill her world with the things she loves, death has been emptying her heart.

Roberts' 18-year-old grandson took his life June 29, two years and a month after his father, Roberts' younger son, was shot to death.

When young Aaron Roberts died last month, Roberts was already mourning the death of her only sibling, her sister Lucy Duncan, who died two days before, and of her mother, who died in February.

Roberts has worked for King County for the past 22 years, processing affidavits. When someone in the county buys a house, she makes sure the name is in the system. She was born in Louisiana but grew up in Seattle. Her father had come out to work in the shipyards during World War II. He decided to stay and brought his family out in 1952. Roberts attended Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Washington Middle School and Garfield High School.

I wonder what aspirations she had. What she expected out of life.

"I didn't think I'd be burying my son and my grandson. I didn't think all this death would have been thrown at me."

Her grief is personal, but I am sitting here because part of her pain is public. Roberts wants people to know about her grandson's death because she believes the Seattle police officer who shot her son also took away her grandson's will to live.

She says not a day goes by that she does not think of her son's death. Suicide is never caused by one thing alone, but anniversaries of tragedies are always painful, and it is possible Little Aaron was thinking about his father in the weeks after the second anniversary.

Roberts says her grandson never talked about what happened to his dad. The police shooting happened in their neighborhood. Little Aaron, who was 16 then, saw his father's body lying in the street and tried to get to him, Roberts says.

Roberts and her surviving son, Eric, say police took Little Aaron into custody. Court records show he was released without charges.

He might have been reminded of his father's death again late in June when another man was shot and killed by police officers, this time in Snohomish County — black man, white officers, different circumstances, same outcome.

This time a SWAT team entered a house in Monroe and shot Harold McCord Jr. seven times. McCord was wanted for escaping from custody brandishing a cardboard gun.

A few days after that, Little Aaron walked over to 27th Avenue where his great-grandparents live. He went downstairs. His great-grandfather heard a pop and went down to check, finding Aaron there.

Roberts says Little Aaron's funeral overflowed with people saying their goodbyes, but Little Aaron's mother missed it because she'd been arrested on outstanding warrants July 3 and jailed in Snohomish County. His grandmother says Little Aaron loved his parents no matter what they did. I can't help thinking they didn't make his life easy.

Roberts says, "He'd always tell me, 'Grandmama, I'm going to make you proud of me.' And he would always tell me how strong I was.

"He was just my heart, and I blame it all on the police department, all of it."

Sometimes people treat their grief by trying to change the cause of it, and I wonder whether she is likely to campaign for change, but she says nothing is going to change.

"Justice is just for them," she says, meaning white people.

But aren't some people working for social justice?

"All that stuff, it's not going to get anywhere. In this society, I don't think a black person has a snowball's chance in hell to get anywhere."

We can put the newspaper down and move on, but she keeps living this bad news story.

We live in a more hopeful world than she can see through her tears, but it is not as innocent a place as many who have not walked in her shoes think it is.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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