Lost in Transition 

A Henrico County apartment complex that offers a fresh start suffers a tragic setback. Remembering Ricky Burton.

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If the suburban dream is still alive, then the choppy landscaping and cream vinyl siding is a glimmer of hope for the 90 or so families living in Delmont Village.

 On the northeast end of Henrico County, the two-year-old apartment complex is nestled among half-shaven trees and manicured shrubs, standing in stark contrast to the aging Cape Cods and small, decaying homes that surround it. 

For people working to pull themselves out of poverty, Delmont, just off Laburnum Avenue, is an oasis: A two-bedroom, two-bath runs about $650 a month, reserved for tenants whose monthly incomes fall between $1,950 and $2,600.

“It is a stepping stone, it's in-between,” says Sandra Reynolds, site manager at the complex. “Everybody works hard in this community. … They all handle what they have to handle to get to the next step.”

For the Burtons, who live on Delmont Street, the dream turned into a nightmare at approximately 1:30 a.m. Aug. 10. Ricky Burton, 16, was shot to death trying to make his way home from the late shift at a nearby Wendy's restaurant. Police are still searching for suspects, attempting to piece together what happened, but haven't released a motive. Neighbors speculate it was a robbery that turned fatally violent.

The Burtons and their extended family — Ricky's mother, Tonya, lives in Delmont with Ricky and his brother, Eric; Ricky's father, Rickie Shaw, lives near Azalea Mall — has now been extended in ways that weren't planned.

As dusk blanketed the neighborhood Aug. 12, more than 300 neighbors, friends and family gathered on Delmont Street to sing hymns and cast aside aspersions. Nothing seemed to console the boy's father, who owns an art gallery on Brook Road, a block from Adams and Broad streets. They were planning a trip to Clarksville in September for the annual homecoming at Cedar Grove Baptist Church. Ricky was getting to that age when he didn't get overjoyed about family gatherings, but he was looking forward to it nonetheless.

“I'd come by there in the evenings, just pop up,” Shaw says. “Just would come by and like, ‘Where you at, what you doing? Tell me anything, talk to me. Call me if you need me, no matter what.’ He was just my boy.”

Shaw reminded his son about the homecoming about a week before he was killed. They'd go down to the lake, take off their shirts and relax. “We'd go down to the water,” he says of him and his kids. “Just throw rocks, enjoy the day go along, and just listen to them.”

Ricky Burton was easygoing, his friends and family say, and didn't get in much trouble. He was always respectful. Reynolds, the apartment manager, says when police knocked on her door Sunday at 2:30 a.m. to ask about the surveillance cameras in the neighborhood, she was shocked to hear the victim was Ricky.

“He was a good kid. He didn't have problems with anybody,” says Reynolds, who moved into the community shortly after taking the job in 2007.

“[Ricky and Eric] are very respectful of people,” she says. “Yes ma'am, no ma'am, can I help you with that. Their mother has done a great job in teaching them. I don't know all the details, but he was out to make a difference. He was going to pay his way through college; he started working so he could do that.”

He wasn't an honor roll student, but he put in the work and was a rising junior at Henrico High School. His friends smile when “Pretty” Ricky's name pops up. Everybody seemed to like him. He loved basketball and liked the San Antonio Spurs. His football team was the St. Louis Rams.

For all the so-called progress and strides the community is making, transitioning to better things and the suburban dream, the outpouring at the vigil last week illustrates something that can't be found in places like Woodlake and Short Pump. The hardship unites. Neighbors know each other by first name. The strength of the community, for all its warts, offers a temporary solace for the family, however muted. At one point, activist Alicia Rasin somberly asks for contributions because “there wasn't enough money to bury him.”

When tragedy strikes transitioning communities such as Delmont, there's often a political gap, too. City Council members Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell stop by the vigil, but the only Henrico politician to be seen is School Board member Lamont Bagby, who is awestruck. It's new territory. Until last week, Bagby hasn't seen a tragedy like this in his district. “Nothing of this nature,” he says. “Not of this magnitude.”

Rickie Shaw couldn't shake the demons, the feeling that he had let his son down somehow. Little Ricky, he says, was born with a smile on his face. His first son turned his life around.
“When I had him I was drinking and getting high and being irresponsible. I was 30 years old. I was at a crossroads with myself,” Shaw says. “He made me think about somebody besides myself.”

Shaw had big plans for his son, who wanted to be an actor, wanted to take over his father's art gallery one day, wanted to live in New York. “A lot of times, I was a cynical guy. I had no direction in my life,” Shaw says. “I got on track with him. He put me on track. He was the love of my life.” S


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