Crystal Heath logs the numbers in her calendar, each marking another day the murder of her only son remains unsolved.
This month, Heath, 56, is well past Day 2,000 — and the sixth-year anniversary since Edwin J. Heath Sr. was shot and killed on May 13, 2015, in Bear, Del.
I could write one of these stories every day in Philadelphia and still not get to every mother. So what am I doing shifting my focus, even briefly, some 50 miles away?
It’s the documenting of devastating loss that crosses every boundary, every town and city line.
While not everyone who loses a loved one to gun violence keeps this kind of tally, they know the torture of delayed justice.
For most of us, counting the days means counting down — to a birthday, a vacation, retirement. It’s a journey to an endpoint, a recognition of light at the end of a tunnel.
But Heath’s not sure when her somber ritual will end, or if it ever will.
So she fills up calendars with numbers, but also with endless efforts to keep her son’s memory, and murder, from being forgotten.
“That’s when my focus shifted a little bit,” she said of connecting with other families. “where I thought, ‘OK, you’re going to get through it because you have other mothers that you can support, and you can all support each other.’”
There are also the calls and meetings with the New Castle County Police Department, to whom Heath is no stranger.
Police Chief Vaughn Bond recalled the first time he heard Heath kept count of the days since losing her son.
“It struck a chord with me,” he said. “It shows you the level of hurt that she’s going through and the level of pain.”
He said Heath’s vigilance has been instrumental in keeping the case alive, despite few clues from a grainy video.
“Miss Heath is very involved, she has dedicated a lot of her time, and she’s holding us accountable,” Bond said. “She’s calling up and she’s asking us: ‘What is going on in my case? Can I get an update? Were you able to follow up with whatever information we last discussed?’”
He added this, both endearing and heartbreaking: “She has a notebook that rivals a detective’s notebook.”
But Bond also conceded that police have hit a wall, and the fatal shooting of Edwin Heath, shot in the head in broad daylight in front of two of his children, then 6 and 9, has been moved to the department’s cold case unit.
Until just a few years ago, most of the homicides handled by the department were solved, Bond said. But as community cooperation decreases, so do answers. Last year most of the county’s 11 homicides went unsolved, and Bond fears they are on track to repeat that trend this year.
Heath, a school therapist, moved to Delaware from New York City when her son was still a teenager, never imagining that she would lose her son to a place she took them for a fresh start.
“I thought it was a safe environment,” she said. “We had a two-bedroom apartment and it was big. That was the biggest apartment we’ve ever had in my life, so he had his space and I had my space and it was great.”
Heath struggles to understand why anyone would hurt her son. “Eddie was funny. He loved to talk. He made people laugh ...” He knew a lot of people, she said, but mostly opted to spend time with his four children. He was engaged to his youngest child’s mother, and had recently gone back to school to be a phlebotomist.
He would have turned 40 on May 25, a milestone that Heath plans to mark by making some of his favorite foods: homemade macaroni and cheese, collard greens, rice and beans, and oxtails.
On bad days, as she watches the numbers in her calendar increase, Heath fears that no number is high enough, that no one will ever answer for her son’s murder.
She’s considered ending her ritual. What will all the counting amount to in the end, anyway?
But then she flips the calendar page and keeps counting, and hoping.