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  • RENÉE C. BYER / rbyer@sacbee.com

    Lewis and Jody Long stand by a mantel that memorializes their son Joseph, killed by stray gunfire as he left a midtown swing dancing class last year.

  • Joseph Allen Long

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Parents' pain remains sharp a year after stray gunfire killed dance instructor son in Sacramento

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 11:54 am

The Longs had been warned: The initial year after losing a loved one is the worst, full of painful firsts.

Sure enough, Halloween – one of their son Joe's most beloved holidays – just couldn't be celebrated. There were no carols at Christmas, a pastime they had shared. They marked his birthday, Feb. 16, not with a party, but with postings on his memorial Facebook page.

And now their year of grief is about to be capped off Sunday with another heartbreaking milestone: The first anniversary of the day 32-year-old Joseph Allen Long was killed by stray gunfire as he left a midtown Sacramento swing dancing class.

"I'm trying to do everything I can to downplay it," Joe's father, Lewis Long, said recently from his Carmichael home. "In reality, it's just another day. It's going to be something that is forever in my mind."

In the year that has passed, Sacramento police detectives have continued their quest for answers, but have not developed any suspects. As they press forward, Long's picture and the program from his memorial remain pinned to the wall of the sergeant assigned to the case.

"Joseph Long was truly an innocent victim that night," said police spokesman Officer Doug Morse. "Detectives urge anyone with information related to Mr. Long's tragic death to call in. … Somebody knows something."

The night before he was shot, Long, a talented athlete and local dance instructor who hoped to open his own venue someday, had attended a group swing-dancing lesson hosted by Midtown Stomp.

About 1 a.m., he walked two young women to their cars, parked in a lot at J and 28th streets. Unknowingly, he walked into gunfire as two groups fought nearby. Long died at a hospital shortly thereafter.

His death sent shock waves throughout his expansive circle of family and friends, the midtown community and the city's dance circles.

A graduate of Del Campo High School and California State University, Sacramento, Long developed deep friendships wherever he went, his loved ones said.

"That's sort of the thing with Joe – he was very magnetic in terms of his personality," said longtime friend Kyle Short. "My grandparents knew Joe. My parents knew Joe. He was a regular fixture in the lives of everyone."

Despite their grief, his friends and family wanted his memorial to be a celebration. More than 500 people packed into Sacramento State's Alumni Center, where a group of friends wearing scarves and fedoras – Long's trademarks – spontaneously broke into dance.

A year later, Long continues to be a regular part of his friends' and family's conversations. His impact, his loved ones said, will never subside.

"He was like the sunrise, as cheesy as that sounds," said an emotional Short, 33.

Long's parents, Lewis and Jody Long, are determined to make sure their son does not slip from the public's consciousness. They used money collected after his death to start a scholarship fund that will award $500 each year to one Sacramento State student studying dance or theater arts.

They also are finalizing plans to put a memorial bench on campus, a public place where people can sit and remember their son.

Joe, though, came home with them.

His ashes sit on the mantel of his parents' home in an urn shaped like a book – he was a voracious reader, his parents said.

It was a passion Joe shared with his mother. They talked about books often, comparing reading lists and exchanging their favorite texts. Sometimes, when she can't sleep, Jody Long sits in the family room and reads with her son.

The Longs' devastation, however, is much less a peaceful picture.

"I am hoping it will become easier, but I know it will never go away," Lewis Long said. "Every time I wake, I wake to the reality that has happened."

The Longs have found some comfort in the people Joe surrounded himself with. Though they knew his high school friends well, many of his friends from adulthood were lesser known to them – until his death. Getting to know these friends, the Longs said, has helped them to better know their son.

Some stop by occasionally to check on the Longs. Others call, sometimes needing a good cry. Often, though, it's a happy exchange.

"Our world has opened up," Jody Long said. "His friends have become our friends."

The lack of arrests in the case weighs on the Longs, but they refuse to let it consume them. They say they must face the possibility that answers may never come.

"Closure would be good, but it is not something we are waiting on," Jody Long said. "They've taken enough from us without taking any more of our lives."

She added that knowing more about the petty argument that ended with her son's death would only further their pain.

Still, Joe deserves justice, his parents said.

"He had a lively life," Lewis Long said. "He lived more in his 32 years than I have in my 60."

POLICE TIP LINE

Anyone with information about the fatal shooting of Joseph Allen Long on Aug. 18, 2012, is asked to call the Sacramento Police Department at (916) 264-5471 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Tips also can be texted to 274637 with "SACTIP" followed by the information. Callers can remain anonymous and might be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh



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