- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - When Robyn Wittke was going through her son’s room last year, she opened a binder and found a page with “Goals” scribbled at the top.

On a sheet of notebook paper, Wittke’s son - Landon Bays - had written down his aspirations for the next three years.

There were short-term goals, like “lose 40 pounds” and long-term goals like “climb Mount Everest.”

It was heartwarming for Wittke to see her son continue a family tradition of putting dreams on paper, but heartbreaking to realize he would never achieve them.

“We’re missing somebody,” Wittke said. “And he deserves better than this. He deserves justice.”

Bays, 18, was found lying on the side of West Catalpa Street in Springfield with a gunshot wound on March 11, 2016. He later died at the hospital.

The shooting is Springfield’s only homicide from 2016 that remains unsolved, and Bays’ parents told the News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/2mpGzk2 ) reports this month they are starting to worry that criminal charges will never be filed in the case.

“There’s a hole that can never be filled,” Wittke said. “Closure on the case would be very helpful.”

A spokesman for the Springfield Police Department declined to say this week whether detectives are close to making an arrest or provide further details about the open investigation.

Wittke said it’s too difficult for her to talk to the detectives about the case, but it has become part of the coping process for Landon’s father, Blake Bays.

Blake said he calls SPD’s homicide unit every week asking for updates on his son’s case.

Sometimes he gets information, and sometimes he gets an answering machine.

“I’m pissed,” Blake said. “Not at the police, but I’m pissed at the justice system, honestly. I just don’t feel like it should take that long.”

Blake said he’s not an expert on homicide investigations, but he knows the chances of solving a whodunit don’t usually get better with time.

“People keep telling me to be patient,” Blake said. “I know there are times that it might take two or three years, but I also know the longer time goes on, the less chance you have. People forget conversations, they forget what they saw, when they saw it, how they saw it.”

So as the one-year mark approaches, Blake said he will keep calling.

“That’s the only thing I got control of is picking up the phone,” Blake said. “Not to be able to do more makes you feel like you are letting your kid down.”

That kid, his parents say, was well on his way to adulthood.

Before his 19th birthday, Landon had finished high school, nearly completed his bachelor’s degree, secured a sales job, learned to speak Thai and proposed to his now-27-year-old girlfriend, Nim.

At Landon’s funeral last year, his parents talked about how he made the most of the dash on his headstone that separates the 1997 and the 2016.

“He had accomplished more in his short time than most people accomplish in a lifetime,” Wittke said.

In the days following the homicide, Wittke shared what she had been told by her son’s friends about the night of the shooting.

Wittke said Landon went to the McDonald’s on Sunshine Street near Campbell Avenue with a couple of friends on the evening of March 11, 2016.

Landon’s phone started to ring as he was entering the restaurant, so he stepped outside to take the call.

When Landon’s friends finished eating, Wittke said, they went outside to meet up with him, but he wasn’t there.

Landon’s car was still in the parking lot, but he was gone, his mother said.

Later that night, a passing bicyclist spotted Landon lying on that dark stretch of Catalpa Street, just west of Grant Avenue.

Police were unable to identify Landon since he did not have any ID cards on him, so the department released a photo of a wolf tattoo on Landon’s forearm - the one he had begged his parents to sign off on - and asked for the public’s help finding out who he was.

Blake now has the same tattoo on his right arm.

Landon’s parents say support groups have helped them get through this year.

Wittke and her husband, Randy Britain, briefly opened a coffee shop in Landon’s memory this summer. And the mother also cherishes a letter she received from the woman who got one of Landon’s kidneys.

But the family still misses Landon’s daily calls and texts.

“I have a hard time coping,” Blake said. “I’m fidgety. I feel like there’s something I should be able to do.”

Blake said one of Landon’s faults is that he tried to handle everything himself. Now, the father can’t help but wonder if there was something he could have done to help his son last March.

“You run it through your head a hundred times thinking about what you could have done differently,” Blake said. “The day before or the day of. What if this or what if that.”

Blake said he tries to keep his focus on what can still be done, like making sure someone is held accountable for his son’s death.

“I don’t feel like I need counseling,” he said. “I just need justice.”

Landon’s sister, Brooke Bays, joined the Army this year. She said Landon’s death inspired her to go after something that has been a goal for a while.

Brooke has lived in Springfield for four years, but Landon had only lived there a few weeks before the shooting. The siblings had plans to get a house together, along with their brother Christian.

“We didn’t want to live apart,” Brooke said. “We were always hanging out together anyway.”

Brooke was the first family member to arrive at the hospital after Landon was shot, and she still wonders every day how he ended up there.

Asked if she thought seeing someone charged with murder in Landon’s death would provide some healing, she said she hopes so.

“We don’t even know if it’s real closure once anyone gets prosecuted,” Brooke said. “It’s kind of the only solution we can find to an impossible problem.”

___

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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