Last November, former Juneau resident Michael Anderson's truck veered and came to rest near the side of an orange-coned section of U.S. Route 75 in Van Alstyne, Texas, a small town about 40 miles north of Dallas.
The truck's engine was running and its headlights lit the roadside as the radio played into the evening. Over the next seven hours, the truck's headlights dimmed and the radio signal faded before anyone stopped and discovered the lifeless body of the 23-year-old driver.
Law enforcement officials said Anderson's end came quickly, and he didn't feel a thing. They told his family he had been shot in an act of "road rage" - a popular phrase for a random act of highway violence. It robbed his family of a son, a fiancé and a brother, and a young man of his life.
"The hardest part about all this?" said Andy Anderson, Michael's father. "He's not here. They say losing a parent is tough. Near as I can tell, losing your own child is worse. It's pretty devastating. They say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Boy, I'll say this, God's really pushing it with this."
Margie and M.L. "Andy" Anderson, former Juneau residents, moved with their son and daughter to Sherman, Texas, a town about 70 miles north of Dallas, about six years ago with dreams of retiring.
Michael didn't live very far from his parents, Andy said. He was building a three-bedroom brick house in Howe, another small community between Sherman and Van Alstyne. He designed it himself to share with the woman he planned to marry in June, who by all accounts - including those of the officer investigating Michael's case - was as good a woman as Michael was a man.
Michael worked for Texas Instruments and was studying engineering in college. He was turning heads with his ambition and anxiousness to develop his professional life, Margie said. His parents burst with pride.
But then came that Sunday-morning knock no parent should hear. It was the Texas Rangers. They didn't need to say anything, Andy said. Somehow he already knew.
"I asked him if it was about my son," Andy said. "They said, 'Yes.' I asked if he was dead. They said, 'Yes.'
"Nothing prepares you for that news. There's nothing that can describe what I felt."
The investigation is continuing into their son's murder, Margie said. She and Andy still call investigators to check in and have set up a reward fund for information leading to the capture of whoever killed Michael.
So far, said Van Alstyne Investigator Kelly Davidson, police have a suspect and are looking into whether others were involved. Anderson's killing was the second murder in Van Alstyne in 2002, but no arrests have been made in connection with the shooting. Despite five months passing, Davidson said he and Texas Ranger Tony Bennie are actively working on the case.
"Most agencies in Texas do not have their own crime lab (and some that do) enlist the help of the Texas Rangers in major cases," said Davidson in an e-mail to the Empire. "They (Texas Rangers) have extensive resources and are highly trained. I speak to Ranger Tony Bennie several times a week and we work together as a team (on the case)."
Davidson said this type of case is difficult to solve because there is very little physical evidence.
"I do feel confident that we will see justice in this case," he said. "It takes time to see that everything is done correctly and lawfully so that a conviction will be the end result."
Van Alstyne police said the investigation is ongoing, but declined to release any details about the crime, including how Michael died.
"The reality of it is setting in now," Andy said. "We're hoping to hear something soon. We know if anyone is prosecuted for this it will open up the wound and we will have to go through this all over again with a trial, but at least maybe then the healing can begin.
"I've never been one for vengeance and I've never advocated hurting anybody, but if whoever did this gets the death penalty, I wouldn't be sad."
Michael was gentle, Margie said. He wasn't into drugs, wasn't a bad kid and wasn't doing anything wrong when he was shot. He worked hard and paid his own way in life. He took as many hours as he could at work, Andy said. In fact, he said, Michael was on his way to work when the shooting happened.
Margie said she can still see her son smiling at her.
"He was just such a loving boy," said Margie. "I remember we would meet for lunch on occasion when he was at (Juneau-Douglas High School). Other boys his age wouldn't dare be seen with their mothers. But he and I would walk arm in arm down the docks together. He was just such a gentle, sweet boy."
Andy sees in his mind a 9-year-old Michael sitting in their front hallway in Juneau grappling with a pair of rubber boots. Andy points out to Michael that his boots are on the wrong feet. Michael replies by crossing his legs at the knees, saying with a toothy grin, "now they're not."
"There's just so much that comes into your head, so many thoughts, and you can't help but think about them," Andy said. "It's what keeps you going. All we have are memories."
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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