Isaac Chavez – In my first day of class at Prescott Family Karate, I was 12, Dustin 11… our Sensei, Rafael, decided it would be a good day to practice a live self defense exercise; the goal being to immobilize the coming attacker. He asked us to match up with someone comparable in size; I looked around the room and saw a young fellow, about my age, with shaggy hair and a nice big smile on his face. He was wearing a dark colored belt, but I had no idea what that symbolized. I walked over to him shyly and asked if he would mind being my partner, to which he replied, “sure, man, I’m Dustin.” To be honest, I figured I’d have no problem taking him to the ground – he was very lean and I was… not. Our Sensei told us to stand about four feet apart and one person would attack first; Dustin told me I could go first. “Sweet,” I thought, as we set up the exercise, waiting for the signal to begin.
Once I heard ‘go,’ I put my head down and ran at my oddly confident partner. Next thing I know, I’m flying through the air, head first, into the [padded] floor, thank goodness. I had no idea what he’d done to me, but it was scary as hell, and obviously effective; I realized I was in way over my head. We reset and I tried again – same result. As I laid there, discouraged, Dustin walked over and extended his hand before telling me what was wrong with my approach. He walked me through the mechanics of tossing an overconfident white belt.
I’m forever grateful for the friend I made that afternoon. As we grew up together, I never lost that feeling of respect I had for him from the start. As a friend, teammate, and adventure buddy, he truly was a special human being; one might say he had a black belt in the art of living.
Elysse Casson – Dustin and I got into some type of immature fight during the winter season of our senior year. I can’t even remember what it was about, but I was so furious that I drove to the back roads behind Thumb Butte; I was on a mission to cross out the initials we carved into an aspen tree. As fate would have it, my Jeep got stuck in the snow and there was no hope of getting it out. I didn’t know who to call, so I reached out to the one person I was sure would rescue me. Even under the most awkward of circumstances, it was Dustin. He came to my rescue and didn’t even give me a hard time. He just smirked, shook his head and pulled my Jeep out with his truck. We never brought up the incident again, we just went right back to loving each other after that.
Wayman Trujillo – Junior year of high school, my parents were on a trip to South Carolina. Having the house to myself, I did what any 17-year-old would do, and I threw a party. Friday night, at about 7:30, people started showing up; by 8:30, there were at least 70 kids at the house, talking loud, playing music… the standard. Next thing I know, there are two Yavapai County Sheriffs coming in the front door. The two sheriffs gathered us all in the kitchen and living room. 70 kids and two cops crammed in to the house, all of a sudden the back door opens and Dustin walks in, carrying a case of beer, and goes, “hey there are two cops across the street… oh hi officer, um I guess I’ll give you this (hands him the case of beer) and I’ll just go stand over here.” After the cops left, taking most of the beer we had, but not all of it, there were still about 20 of us that were all staying the night. Dustin told us how he went to pull in the driveway and saw the cop cars. He drove past my house parked on the side of the road jumped three fences, beer in hand, and snuck up to the house to warn us about the cops.
Jackie Beavers– My first memory of Dustin is when he came to Mile High Middle School, and the first emotion I felt towards him was adoration. I remember girls competing for his attention, guys wanting to be his friend, parents wanting to meet him, and Dustin smiling through every encounter. Even as young kids in middle school, Dustin was held to a level of high respect. I was lucky to run track with him in 8th grade and we grew a lot closer then. We lived close, spent a lot of time together at school, my parents loved him, my brothers loved him, I loved him; it was an easy friendship without pressure, without judgement. Throughout high school, Dustin really grew into an incredible young man; girls were still falling for him, he was a dedicated athlete and friend. He treated my cousin like an old friend when she moved to Prescott, and I have a lot good memories hanging out with Dustin and Ame, thinking, “this is was family love looks like.”
After we all left Prescott for college, it became more important to see each other when we were in town. Dustin called me every single year around Thanksgiving and Christmas; if he couldn’t get a hold of me, he would call my brother. Sometimes I would drive home from Durango and he would already be at my parents’ house eating dinner.
Dustin knew my faults, he knew that I struggled with relationships, drinking, and had family troubles. So, a lot of our meetups as adults started to consist of long talks, painful memories, asking each other for relationship advice, telling each other our mishaps, and our proud moments too.
In 2014, he was having dinner with us at my parents’ house in Prescott. We told him we were flying to Texas in a few days to go fishing at a friend’s lodge. Dustin was comfortable enough to invite himself, and everyone was excited he was coming with us. My brother Andrew had a friend meet us there, Jantzen. Dustin and Jantzen immediately bonded on the trip; they spent a lot of time talking about hunting and sharing fishing tips. I always tried to get on Dustin and Jantzen’s boat, mainly so I could remind them to wear sunscreen. We caught a lot fish that trip and most importantly to me, Dustin got to meet my niece and nephew. My oldest brother Ryan called me recently and said he was reminiscing about that trip; he said “your friend Dustin lived his life at 100 miles an hour”. And that’s true, he did, but he also showed his appreciation for every mile of it. Him and Jantzen had only met that one time, and after that they would continue to call in and check on each other, chat about life, and then they’d call to check in on me. I know so many people refer to Dustin as their brother, and there’s no better word for him. He was my brother, a constant in my life who always reminded me that I needed to come home for the holidays to see my old friends.
One of the last times I can remember being in Prescott with Dustin, is when he begged me to go to Pudge and Asti’s with him. I didn’t particularly want to go, but I always loved walking into that place with Dustin. We were greeted with a warm welcome, and eventually walked to his mom’s house to check on her chickens. One of those perfect, typical Prescott days with your very good friend.
Dustin was so special to my family. There aren’t many people who can get along with my mom, dad, brother and myself, together or separately. I’ve been jealous of my dad and brother when they told me they just got off the phone with Dustin, or when they were planning to go fishing together. But Dustin was really that special, he had more love to share, more stories to share, more memories to make, and not everyone could keep up with him – he had to keep moving. As much as I regret not making more memories with him, I know his life was never short on adventure. He made me a better person, he listened to me and accepted my imperfections, and was always honest about his. I feel proud to have been his friend, and to know the family and community that helped raise such an amazing young man. He was proud of us too, I know that.
Skyler Schiller – One of my favorite things that Dustin and I used to do was cruise around in his truck Bumpin Atmosphere. Dustin‘s notorious go to move was his one hand over his mouth one to hand out in front pumping up the crowd like a hype man on stage. He was one of the original white gangsters! I will also never forget the day that Dustin had a big chew in his mouth during our senior football season and he made a big tackle and his chin strap came up and cracked him in the lip and his chew exploded all over his mouth and face and he just smiled and got a drink of water to wash it out!! Dustin and I also became much closer in our freshman year at Northern Arizona University together. When I was going through a rough patch, he was there for me and I really enjoyed us riding our bikes to the gym together grabbing lunch on campus together and just hanging out. He had a calming aura about him that was addictive and infectious. The guy had an amazing soul and a huge heart.
I know anyone who was friends with or knew Dustin will know he was one of the good ones that was taken far too soon.
Tara DeFreitas – Sweet Dustin. One of the sweetest souls I’ve ever met. Probably the sweetest soul most of us have ever met. I first saw Dustin at a middle school party where I barely knew anyone. I was in awe by his charm, enamored by the light that surrounded him. I’d never met a boy so kind and full of life at age 12. In a sea of young girls and boys, Dustin felt to me like the most awake person in the room. Like he knew something we were all searching for… confidence, grace. His laugh and smile could fill anyone up; his happy demeanor, so damn contagious. So contagious in fact that he, along with beautiful Leah Merle, was one of the reasons why I wanted to transfer schools in the last quarter of my 8th grade year, from Chino Valley to Prescott. Steering my life in a whole new direction.
Dustin’s kindness carried through to high school, although we all started making new groups of friends and having exciting new experiences, I could always count on a smile from Dustin in the hall and a rub on my earlobes calling me his good luck charm. Things other silly boys would make fun of, Dustin would find ways to praise and give love to. How could that type of kindness not make an impact on everyone he knew? How could I / we, not feel so incredibly grateful to have known this angel on earth. But this is what Dustin did to people. He made everyone feel so comfortable, special, and most of all, loved.
When I moved to LA from Prescott after High School, I only had a handful of beautiful lasting memories with Dustin. Each and every time I’d gotten the chance to see him, it was like no time had passed. We treated each other with profound respect and love. One of my favorite memories was with him at Leah and Jeremy’s wedding, talking by the bon fire for hours catching each other up on the lives we’ve built. I know, undoubtedly, that Dustin will remain in our hearts for eternity and his soul lives on through every memory he gave us. Thank you, Dustin… For shining your light and letting us see the world through your eyes. Luke Rotvold – Dustin had just made the A team for basketball 8th grade year. Dustin had never played basketball before but as we all knew with D, he was about the most athletic kid anyone had ever witnessed. Faster than anyone and had the most insane strength. Basketball is a bit of a finesse sport if you haven’t played.
It was the 1st game of the year and Dustin got the ball on a breakaway… he looked like a man amongst boys running towards the other rim. Running as fast as he could, he took the basketball in one hand to shoot the layup. Dustin chucked the ball about as hard as he possibly could off the backboard and the ball landed back near the 1/2 court line. It was the best welcome to basketball moment we had ever seen. Football was a little more his sport! We loved that man more than anything.
Aleena Oleksandrova – I’m not one for writing but I have so many memories. One of the best and hardest to forget is your dancing abilities. Pretty sure you lit up any room with not only your crooked smile, but those second to none dance moves. I’ll always remember reminiscing about our childhood and dancing to silly songs like “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. That will be my most favorite memory and story to tell. 😉
Travis Mayo – We were in middle school, or maybe high school, and we’d always go over to his mom’s house and have boxing matches. Everyone was scared to go against Dustin, but me and my small man syndrome forced me to step up. In my opinion, Dustin let me hit him a few times before he put the hurt on me… and his first punch hurt; he hit my face and then bounced my head off his bedroom window, essentially knocking me out. Then, we moved the boxing match down to the yard instead of the porch. Again, Dustin gave me a few before coming in with a haymaker, knocking me on my ass into a pile of dog shit that he raked up the day before. We would always end laughing and hug it out. He was a great friend and will be greatly missed.
Marney Henze – Oh Dustin- the boy every girl was gaga over in the 8th grade…his adorable curly hair and that slightly crooked bright big smile…who couldn’t love him!? He always had the biggest & brightest heart. So special to have kept in touch with him throughout the years after grade school. I have a vivid memory of him coming to Phoenix when Jackie & I lived together about 5 or 6 years ago. He was going on Jackie’s family vacation in Texas; I picked them up from the airport after their trip and he couldn’t even talk straight, he was so exhausted & sunburned to the crisp. He had about 100 mosquito bites all over his body and he was telling a story about how he was hanging with Jackie’s cousins and the next thing he remembers was waking up in a car that he apparently slept in all night so he had a huge kink in his neck. I remember laughing & couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth, & then I thought, this is a total Dustin story, always so many stories – no matter where he would go, adventure would follow. That kid lived large & didn’t let anything stop him- I will miss his smile & crazy ass stories he always had up his sleeve.
John O’Neill – I met Dustin when I was eleven; his uncle worked for my dad and I remember one day he got out of his uncle’s truck with that big curved, kind of crooked smile. I immediately felt like he wanted to be friends; he was curious about me which is not a quality most eleven-year-old boys had… or at least they didn’t show it. We connected right away so I was devastated when I found out he was going to a different middle school, and actually thought, “well, I guess that means we can’t really be friends.” Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong as we carried out our friendship through high school, college, and beyond. In high school, when there wasn’t a house party or woods party, we’d just sit around until someone came up with a plan. One night, we were sitting in my truck when Dustin started talking about these spirit horses you could hear if you stood in a certain spot on the reservation, so, we decided it was only right that we went. It was probably 8:45pm when we parked at the top of Ruth St. and started walking up a hill; we went through trees and bushes – we were probably going for about an hour… and then he found it. We kicked away the leaves and pine needles and he told us we had to press our ear against the dirt. We laid there in complete silence for an hour before Dustin sat up and said, “well, they don’t always come by… they’re wild horses.” We laughed and sat up, thinking the night was coming to a close, but he had more stories to tell; Native American folklore that his uncle shared with him about skin-walkers and shape-shifters. He told us about how some skin walkers are really bad and can turn into animals and come kill you, which some would use as a war tactic, turning into a bear to kill an entire tribe. He also said there were good skin walkers, but I can’t recall the detail he went into about those. I remember being intrigued by everything he told us; just sitting under a tree with my friends at night – it was pitch black and I felt chilled by the fact that an animal (skin walker) could creep up on us. The other boys went home after that; Dustin and I went back to his mom’s house, where he had one more story to tell. He said a long time ago, maybe in the 50’s, this little boy was crossing the street when he was hit by a car and killed, and that sometimes, they could see him around the house. We were sitting in his driveway, in my truck, and Dustin pointed to a general area; “look over there,” he directed. I saw a blur and I turned my head; I actually thought something was in my eye for a second before I saw this figure poke out from behind the rock. I asked if the little boy was wearing a baseball cap and he was shocked. “Yeah, you can see him? I thought we’d have to get out to find him,” he said. I watched the little boy for 10 minutes, just staring; it was the strangest thing – he was glowing but colorless – and he didn’t have a mouth, nor was he fully formed. I could see the outlines of his shorts and shirt – the lines of his eyes and nose… my heart was racing. In that moment, I gave a lot more credence to Dustin’s stories. We sat out on the deck until 2 in the morning and he shared more stories with me, telling me I had to meet his uncle, Arleigh, who knew all the Native American legends. Of note – I’ve gone back to that spot several times, trying to show people what I saw… apparently the glowing gray boy has become very shy. One more story… In college, a group of us went to Oak Creek in Sedona to swim and cliff jump at Grasshopper Point; there was this ledge about 25 feet high that all of us jumped from, but naturally, Dustin found something even higher – this slanted piece of dirt about 40 feet up; he scaled the cliff for ten minutes and of course, had everyone’s attention. He launched off the rock and dropped into the water; he came back up, wiped his face, and said “I can show you guys where to jump from!” We declined but shortly thereafter, we noticed this guy crawling up to the same spot Dustin jumped from. He didn’t have the spring Dustin made look so effortless, so on his way down, his leg hit the 25-foot-high ledge and plunged into the water which immediately turned red from his blood. I started pulling kids out of the water and Dustin went over to help him, despite his constant shouting of “I’m fine!” We realized his bone was sticking out from his shin and the blood didn’t stop so Zack McClintock had to pin him down in order for Dustin to assemble a makeshift turn-a-kit. The ambulance arrived within minutes; we ran to help them bring down the stretcher and medical supplies and we all ended up carrying that man out of Grasshopper Point on our shoulders. And yes, after the whole ordeal, we went back, washed the blood off the rocks and spent the rest of the day drinking and continuing to cliff jump… avoiding the 40-foot ledge, of course. Dustin made it a point to always bring adventure to our lives, whether through ghost stories, listening for spirit horses, looking for elk in the woods, or just drinking some Coors. I’ve always admired his ability to bring people together, even in his passing, I feel an inexplicable connection amongst Prescott people in general. I never realized its true existence until the day we sent him off. I realized how Dustin always lived – with compassion, love, and like there was no tomorrow. I really felt his presence in all of us that day and I hope we can carry that gift and smile forever.
Hannah Marcum – My memories of Dustin come mostly from our high school years but are also spread out over an assortment of nights over the past decade when we would reunite in Prescott. These reunions always began with a classic Dustin smile from across the bar followed by a huge Dustin bear hug. A toast to friendship with a whiskey shot was not far behind. While our high school memories are near and dear to my heart, one of my favorite Dustin memories is also one of the most recent and it is one that I will hold close forever.
We were all together in Greer for Leah and Jeremy’s wedding. We were heading to the after party at a nearby bar and we hitched a ride in the back of someone’s truck. Thanks to the open bar, I do not recall whose truck or who else was in the truck with us, but I remember our conversation so vividly. It had been a while since we had caught up on each other’s lives and he told me all about the recent fires he had been out on. We were looking up at the stars from the bed of the truck and he was describing the feeling of being out on a fire at night. I have never heard someone talk about their work with such passion and joy. The conversation was not very long but it was so special and reminded me that Dustin was one of the most amazing people in my life. I will always admire Dustin for his commitment to friendship and his ability to make each one of his friends feel special and embraced, no matter how much time or distance came between them. Dustin will remain a source of light and joy for me and he will always serve as a reminder to be the most caring, authentic, and connected version of myself.
Chris Reed – It was my senior year, Dustin’s sophomore year; we were in the visitor’s locker room getting ready for an important football game and I had a lot on my mind. I was kind of pacing, trying to shake the heaviness before we had to head to the field; I turned the corner and looked up to see Dustin putting on a cheerleading uniform that he must’ve found in one of the lockers… I imagine the girls normally used it as their locker room. He somehow managed to get the thing on but I’ve never seen material stretched like that… literally about to rip open. At first, I’m pissed because I don’t think he’s taking things seriously, but then there comes a knock at the door. The cheer team comes in looking for the uniform and everyone starts laughing; he takes it off and gives it back with a smile. I went from being mad to having fun and I realized then, the importance of being in the moment – not taking life too seriously. Whenever Dustin had the chance to brighten someone’s day or make someone laugh, he took it and we need more of that in this world. I love you, Dustin. Mila Ward – There are so many wonderful memories of Dustin, it’s hard to pick just one favorite, but this memory has always stood out in my mind and I’ve thought back on it fondly over the years. On Christmas Eve night, I went over to Dustin’s grandparents’ house with Ellie and Anthony to hang out with him and his cousin, Ame. For some reason, they had the house to themselves, so we had a little party! We started off the night playing rounds of Kings cup and other drinking games. What else would teenagers be doing on Christmas Eve night?
My favorite part of the night was when Dustin and Ame shared legends and haunted ghost stories of the Reservation. Dustin was such a good storyteller that it gave me goosebumps. Suddenly, we all started hearing strange noises outside and started getting freaked out. We went outside to check, shrieking at every noise we heard, but nothing was there. I remember Ame cracking up and laughing at us for being scared since the two of them were unphased; but no matter how many unexplainable noises we heard that night, I knew we were safe with Dustin and Anthony. That said, eventually those Kings cup games caught up with us. Dustin and I took turns throwing up in the toilet and passed out on the bathroom floor. That resulted in the absolute worst hangover and my family Christmas pictures show it. Overall, it was a great night full of laughter and stories among best friends; certainly, a spooky Christmas Eve to always remember! In closing, Dustin was always a protector in my life and always showed up when I needed him, whether it was ghost noises, car problems or some guy being a jerk to me. He always made me feel safe.
Chris Shipp – There are many stories that come to mind when I think of Dustin and the times we had. The story I’d like to share might be a bit inappropriate, but it speaks volumes of Dustin’s personality and spirit. Dustin always had a positive personality, and he made it a point to make you feel included and bring everyone together.
Our senior year of high school, we were captains of the football team. As captains, we had high expectations for our last season, but we had a really rough start when we lost our first four games. You can imagine practices and the locker room weren’t the most fun place to be when your stinking it up on the field. I remember Dustin took it upon himself to cheer everyone up and bring everyone together. It wasn’t with a great pep talk or cracking any jokes. Nope. Dustin began giving out as many man hugs and booty slaps as he could possibly give to any teammate. He would make sure to comment on how great you looked in your football pants, how much you meant to him, and he would make sure to tell you he loved you any chance he got. After the first few days of Dustin showing the team a little love, we all started following his example. We couldn’t get through a play without a hug, booty smack, or an “I love you” happening on the football field. The best part was after a few weeks of this becoming the team’s routine, parents started voicing a little concern about the football team being “too close.” Our coach actually had to have a meeting during practice to let us know that we need to tone it back on the team love (mostly the butt grabbing), due to the parents being concerned. All of us were trying to keep a straight face, including our coach, since I am sure this type of lecture was a first for him.
In a strange way, Dustin brought us all together, and only Dustin could pull it off. He brought joy back into that locker room and he made everyone feel like they were apart of something bigger than football. Most importantly, he reminded us that we were a family first as well as teammates. Dustin changed everyone’s outlook and our season just by being himself. We ended up winning the rest of our games and making the playoffs.
I can’t say if it was Dustin’s “man love” that changed our season, but I know it definitely helped. My best memories of high school football weren’t the games or the grind; it was the relationships and the fun we were able to have as young men.
Dustin – thank you for bringing so much joy to every person you came in contact with. Thank you for being a great friend to me and others. You will be loved and missed dearly my friend.
Devon Herrera –
I met Dustin in eighth grade on the football field at PHS; I was preparing to run hurdles for Granite Mountain’s track team while Dustin stretched and jumped around in his red Mile High jersey?… uniform? with a radiant smile on his face. I, like so many, was immediately drawn to him, not just because he was beautiful to look at, but because he had this way about him – he had this confidence that never once bordered on cocky.
We connected after the track meet – likely after Mile High smoked Granite in the 4×1, and he invited me to a “boxing tournament” at his house. I’d never been to a boy’s house from another school, so as I experienced a complete body high from his attention, I figured it would take a fair amount of manipulation to get my mom to agree, but he went right up and talked to her without concern. Unsurprisingly, they became friends right away and she actually urged me to go “hang out with my new friend.” From then on, anytime I said I was going to hang out with Dustin, my mom would be thrilled… “oh, how’s he doing? He’s got such a good head on his shoulders, that Dustin. Tell him I say hi!” she’d smile from the living room, free from concern.
Outside of being greeted with an earlobe touch and a “how the hell are ya, darlin’?”, my favorite memory with him was during rodeo weekend, which is so fitting for anyone that’s spent time in Prescott. Everyone came back from out of town to dance together, half two stepping, half stumbling over each other’s feet, and of course, after we listened to the band perform Sweet Home Alabama at 11:30, we all fumbled our way to the bars to continue drinking and sweating as we yelled for a shot from across the counter. Around 1 am, he told me it was essential that I stay the night, in the tent he pitched in his mom’s yard. I just laughed and told him he could stay the night at my parents’ house but he was dead ass serious… nay, adamant the tent was the way to go… “it’ll be a memory we can hold forever!” he smiled – that smile you just can’t say no to. So, we did – we went to the tent and stayed up talking about everything, from his culture, to Jessica Simpson in Dukes of Hazzard, to hopes and dreams. He just always seemed to know what people needed, and throughout the years, he did a better job at reaching out to stay connected than anyone. I could always expect a happy birthday message and a text on Christmas… I mean, how? How was he so good at everything? I may never know, but I am eternally grateful for his friendship and for bringing us all together as a community now… with that, I better start programming birthdays into my phone.
Brendan Howell –
Reflecting on someone who was like a brother to you is hard, but luckily, Dustin provided us with a lot of laughs to hold onto. The good times we had together will forever make me smile and my future kids will think of Dustin as my toughest and funniest friend. It hurts that he won’t be there to tell them stories of our adventures together in the captivating, charismatic way only he could. He was a fierce protector of those he loved and those who needed his help; I can still clearly hear him yelling “Betch” (BH) in times of joy, times of need, and when we would embrace after being apart for a long time.
I could talk about high school, college, Lake Havasu part 1, Havasu part 2, Havasu part 3, and life as young adults… the time he used two girls as crutches, missing a shoe, and an unexplained knee injury after he convinced me to drive four hours just so we could drink together for six hours. Or the time I fell through his ceiling right above him. However, I will save those stories for deer camp and instead, share something from the summer of 2009.
Dustin and I were home in Prescott after spending our freshman year together in the dorms at NAU, which is where our friendship really started to flourish. One day during that summer, Dustin told me we were going down to the valley to spend a day at the Salt River. On the drive there, Dustin asked if I wanted to stop at Wet ‘n’ Wild to meet some people he knew… he seemed to know people everywhere. It feels like I blinked and suddenly, through his connections, we were season pass holders to the water park, making a pact to come down as often as possible (we definitely followed through, going a lot all summer). After the water park, we showed up at a friend’s house a little toasty and continued the party all night, waking up ready to rage at the Salt.
Dustin lugged around the keg we purchased the night before and kept yelling a phrase we shared… “they weren’t ready!” When we hit some rapids, the keg flipped over, and unsurprisingly, Dustin showed a tremendous display of strength, grabbing the ¾ full keg, yelling, “BETCH!” in between breaths. He made his way to another random group; he drank with them and made conversation like they were old friends before we caught up with him, quickly discovering he lost his shoes. He fashioned some red solo cups to his feet once we made it to shore, carrying that obnoxious keg overhead in the blazing heat; I remember a police officer looked at Dustin and asked if he’d been drinking. He mockingly replied by saying, “no, I’m just out here for the exercise,” then cracked a smile and thanked the cops for keeping us safe. The officer laughed and pointed at his shoes, praising him for his ingenuity.
Later that night, still drinking, I decided I would make a few pizzas for everyone… I was so tired; I just sat on the kitchen floor and watched the pizzas cook.
Once Dustin saw me, he sat down right next to me; we were still drinking beers and before I knew it, people were sitting down next to us… pretty soon, the whole party sat on the kitchen floor watching the pizzas cook. It was like the scene from Toy Story with the claw. Dustin just had a magnetism that drew everyone in.
The marathon weekend wasn’t over just yet, though. The next day, Dustin said we were going to the Pointe Hotel since his friends had a room there. We floated the lazy river and kept grabbing beers from a case Dustin hid in the bushes – again, innovative. Later on in the day, he fell for the poolside bartender; soon after professing his love, he was told to leave the pool area. Security actually escorted him out and Dustin smiled as he squared up, saying “why I oughta!” laughing and joking with the large man. I’m sure most people wouldn’t go back into the lion’s den, but Dustin seemed fearless – he went back to the bar after a few hours and got the girl’s number after which we proceeded to drink until the sun came up.
I chose to talk about this weekend because it shows how full of life and adventure Dustin was. He crammed at least three trips into one, making the most of every moment, shining his light onto everyone he came into contact with.
He was one of the most unique and fun-loving people I have ever met. I will miss him greatly, but I know he will always be watching out for us, even if that means a just a reminder to have fun.
Meg Ohanessian – Dustin,
I have so many beautiful memories with you. For weeks now, they’ve been playing in my mind like a mini movie on a loop. I remember the first time we met and the last time I saw you; like the bookends of our adolescence and young adulthood.
The first time I met you, I was playing Rizzo in a production of Grease. You went to Mile High and I went to Granite Mountain. It was a full dress rehearsal and not exactly the way I wanted to meet the cutest boy in town! I will never forget pulling back the curtain and seeing your sweet face. Not a lot of boys lived up to the hype, but you absolutely did. I wish I could go back to that moment and give you a big hug.
I’ve never met someone so genuine. Someone so willing to help anyone. You went out of your way to help me more than once. You got me out of trouble by changing my tire when I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. You took me out for a day of distraction when my heart was broken the first time in high school.
You filled me with feelings of home when I saw you out and about in college. It was a feeling I didn’t know I needed until I would feel it, you know? Like nostalgia and comfort and emotion and love all wrapped up into one mushy hug and I would melt into you every time. Kind of like how you fall apart when you see your mom after a bad day of kindergarten. You’d call me Margret and rub my ears. These memories of you are so engrained in my mind that I swear I can feel them and hear your voice if I close my eyes hard enough.
You and I shared a beautiful and full friendship that spanned for more than 15 years. I am so grateful for you. I think part of what connected us so deeply was our bonds with Elysse and Grace. They hold such special places in both of our hearts and I always felt like that kept us close. Thank you for always looking out for them and everyone.
One of the last times I saw you, you came into Chili’s for a margarita and I was so proud to tell everyone who you were to me. I will always be proud of you and proud to have known you. I didn’t know that would be one of the last times I saw you. If I had, I would have never let you go.
Your impact on this world is immeasurable. Thank you for the memories, I will miss you forever.
Eddie Rasmus – It was spring time in 2004; Dustin and I were in 8th grade at Mile High Middle School. We had P.E. together after lunch and on this particular day, we were playing flag football. Unfortunately, I was playing against Dustin; of course, he was the team’s star player. The QB started the play and I ran downfield while he threw the ball as high and as far as he could. As I was running full tilt to make an epic catch, Dustin was heading straight towards me looking for that interception. Both of us watched the ball, having no awareness what was in front of us, until suddenly, we collided. I’d like to say we hit each other equally but Dustin was twice my size and made of solid muscle (in 8th grade he was really strong compared to everyone else). I don’t remember much about what happened after the collision, but I do remember waking up in the ambulance. I shattered my nose and broke a few teeth, topped off with a severe concussion. Dustin’s simply had a bruised forehead and he said he was dizzy for a minute or so. He called me when I got back from the hospital and he apologized profusely; of course, it wasn’t his fault at all, but that’s just the kind of guy he was.
The story became our go to over the years and we laughed about at our high school reunion. Dustin always looked out for me and my brother, even if that was to break a fight up between us; he was actually awarded for this at our 8th grade graduation and both of us sunk in our seats as everybody stared. My nose has never looked the same and our friendship never ended.
Nicole Ashley –
What’s left that hasn’t already been said about Dustin? He could light up a room, make you feel welcome in any setting, and was just a perfect, genuine person. My memories of Dustin weren’t exactly from high school, but after high school. Although, I did have the biggest crush on him in my youth. I gave him the nick name “flower” so I could talk in code about him to my closest friends. Something I never thought I’d share, to be honest. My memories of Dustin came when I would visit home during holidays; always being so happy to run into him at Pudge and Austi’s, a local bar and grill that both of our families frequently visit. I remember sitting with him numerous times having a beer. One evening, he explained how as a kid he would always go upstairs at Pudge’s and play on the chalk boards with other kids and I remember loudly saying ME TOO! From then, we figured we played on those chalk boards with each other making us feel like child hood friends, even though we didn’t remember each other. When I moved back home, I would see him a little more often and it would make my day when we could all relax, share our memories over a beer (or two or three) and catch up. It pains me that when I walk into our shared family establishment that he will no longer be there to light up the room, but knowing that I still get to see his family and knowing that I was so lucky to have those memories of him will be the light in tunnel.
Melissa Gasho –
When I was asked to share a story of a dear friend by a dear friend, I was slightly nervous. I knew this man for almost twenty years. Twenty years of memories connected to another soul, and yet I was blanking on every encounter I had ever had with the man. So I waited, jotting down little snips of memories tangled with appearances of Dustin. Being honest, we were all extremely stoned majority of the time back then. It wasn’t until I was cleaning my apartment when I came across some middle school photos I had meant to bring to Scottsdale for his memorial. (A memorial, resembling a round circle of time, togetherness and history. I have some of the greatest friends! Blessed!). These photos were gold! Most of the photos had us as a group of happy pre-teen adventurists just trying to sort out the excitement of growing up. One photo resonated with me a little longer than the others. Dustin in his “Mile High” football jersey, towered over 99% of the class excluding Isaac. They were definitely the twin towers. I remembered that day so clearly, it was a home game for the girls volleyball team and the boys might have had an away game. That was the day I got dared to kiss one of the other kids. I was definitely uncomfortable, but the convincing chats from the class clown, made me way too aware of my fear. Dustin could see how nervous I was and called a “timeout”. He pulled me aside and said that I didn’t have to kiss that boy in front of these “chicken heads”. That, if I wanted to not do it he would have my back. I thought that was just perfectly protective and kind. Even at 11, Dustin was the most giving and selfless friend. Right after he got done telling me that I had backup if I decided to bail, he spit out “but I can definitely walk you through the basics”, (he didn’t mean to actually kiss me, but to literally give me a play by play). I looked at him with sarcasm and he just belly laughed out loud. He always had the best smile, laugh and humor. Dustin doesn’t know a stranger. He had the ability to gain trust instantly. I will miss my friend and his unmeasurable soul. Junior Vicente –
One of my all-time favorite stories of Dustin happened in February 2019 in Salt Lake City. The hunting/guiding season had just ended for us. Every year at the end of the season we head to Salt Lake City for a big hunting convention called the Western Outdoor Expo. The best outdoorsman and hunters come from all over the world to attend this week long expo where companies have booths, auctions, big fancy dinners, etc. If you knew Dustin, none of that was his style at all… give him a burger, a dive bar, and good company and he could handle the rest. After the convention and dinner was over one night, we headed out to the bars like we did every other night while we were there. There was big group of us; our BCO employees, family, wives, friends, and new friends that we met at this bar together in downtown SLC. In typical fashion we all get hammered and it’s a great time. We are laughing, drinking, dancing, (Dustin is making the rounds around the bar and making new friends; getting them to pay for his drinks like usual lol). Around about midnight, one of the girls in our group told everyone we needed to take a group picture in the bar for the memory of everyone being together… we all agreed. We dragged Dustin away from his very comfortable spot at the bar; there were about 20 of us, we snapped a few pictures then got back to partying. Mind you, this bar is PACKED with people, shoulder to shoulder, music, dancing, etc. In the midst of it all, about 5 mins after we took the group picture, one of the girls was scrolling through; I stood next to her looking through them, laughing at everyone’s faces, expressions, gestures etc. I noticed Dustin standing close to me; he leaned over to look at the pictures and said “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!!!!???” I looked back at him and said, “huh?” so he repeated himself; “WHAT. THE. FUCK. IS. THAT.” And again, I say, “what are you talking about, bro?” He reached over my shoulder and points at himself in the picture and says “THAT!!!” Now I am super confused (and drunk) at what he’s talking about. Dustin grabs the phone abruptly out of my hand, grabs a bar stool and stands on it on the middle of this PACKED bar and yells out “WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE!!!!” Now everybody in this entire bar is looking at him, must’ve been close to 150 people but you could’ve heard a pin drop… he holds up the phone, zooms in on himself as far as it will go on the screen and yells, “BOYS! I’M THIS FUCKING FAT AND NOBODY HAS EVER SAID ANYTHING TO ME ABOUT IT YET?!” The WHOLE bar bursts into laughter; I nearly passed out from laughing so hard. The whole time the rest of the trip all he could talk about was how fat he was; he would walk around and stick his belly out say he was going “shred mode” and hitting the gym every day until fire season once he got back home.
Chelsea Niven – It’s never easy losing a loved one, but I think honoring their memories and your time together is important, thus, I have spent a great deal of time pondering what to share about my times with Dustin. Like so many of us, I felt every moment with him was special. I enjoyed the deep conversations, the beers, constant laughter, adventures, and the fact that he ALWAYS came to our rescue. Seriously, you could count on him no matter what.
One of my favorite memories is being at Dustin’s house, watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was sitting on their lazy boy chair which was facing the tv and had a side view of the front door. I remember watching the movie and had this dreadful feeling about the front door. Not to mention we were on the Indian reservation and Dustin had told us the story about ghost walkers, which to this day still freaks me out.
I kept eyeing that door suspiciously and about half way through the movie, it flung wide open! In comes a person with a scary mask, wielding a baseball bat like a madman. Needless to say, I freaked the fuck out! I screamed and my legs flew up! Dustin and his cousin had planned the whole thing and video tapped it all from the kitchen. Dustin was laughing hysterically and was overly proud they’d recorded it all.
I think one of the reasons I love that memory so much is that he kept me on my toes. It is a constant reminder to me that you should never take life too seriously, even when there is terror… even when there is darkness. I believe that Dustin more than anyone truly lived that. No matter how hard his life got, he stayed positive and made light of things. I will forever cherish his laughter, him singing ‘Something Like That’ with the boys, and his heroism. Here’s to you, Dustin, and all the greatness you were!
Leah Merle-Putz – I can’t pick just one memory with Dustin, so I’ll start with my earliest…at the first karate studio; we would hunt for locusts and slugs in the back like our lives depended on it. We would constantly play hide-and-seek which always terrified me because I swear that place was haunted. I loved sparring with Dustin partly because he was always such a gentleman. In middle school, I remember people asking me to set them up with him and feeling offended… like, I’m not in the running just because I know him already? In high school, my favorite memories were sneaking out and having Ame drive us to house parties. We always had more fun in the car and jamming out to music than we did at the actual party. That brings us to my most recent and best memory…dancing at my wedding and taking warm shots; it was the best night of my life with my family and closest friends.
Tom Holst –
Me, Robert, Dustin, and Kendall were all friends as kids at Sacred Heart. Even though me and Robert were separated from them for a few years, we all reconnected in high school. I remember spending a lot of time with Kendall and Dustin during Sophomore year; we all went to a school dance together and went back to Dustin’s after getting ditched by our dates. Dustin and I got drunk all night, while Kendall drank a six pack of Sarsparilla [root beer] since he didn’t drink alcohol at the time. We didn’t get to bed until 4am and I remember waking up around noon in Luke’s kid bed, with cars patterned on the blanket.
The night Kendall died, I drove over to his house and Dustin was my comforter… as mentioned in my stories about Robert, after he passed, Dustin left the line of firefighters to put an arm around me, walking with me the rest of the way. That’s just who he was to everyone – their comfort.
Sydney Bogart – As I’ve contemplated which story I would tell, I continuously found myself reflecting on not just a single memory, but rather the feeling of the initial contact I repeatedly had with him. Once I moved away from Prescott my freshman year, I didn’t realize how much I would miss my friends – especially the friends I built such incredibly strong relationships with, starting as early as elementary school and into middle school, which is where I met Dustin, in middle school. We were instant friends and he was truly the absolute kindest and sweetest middle school boy I knew, even during times when his kindness was less than deserved. I feel like he always had the long-term goal of goodness and friendship in his heart. Our friendship continued to grow through the years and after moving away, I continuously stayed in contact with Dustin and fondly reflect on our moments; when he would wish me a happy birthday, congratulating me on my engagement, wedding, or just check in to see how I’m doing. Each time I had the privilege of randomly running into Dustin (as it was not actually planned), I will never forget the energy he transferred to me, just exuding light. He made me feel as though I was the most important guest at his surprise party. He made me feel like I was the most important person in the room. He made me feel validated and loved. When I saw him, he would shout, “Great to see ya!” run up to me, hug me with every fiber in his body, pick me up, twirl me around, and truly make me feel beyond relevant, loved, and seen. I’m so grateful those will be memories I can carry with me forever.
Jordan Alessi – In 2016, after working together for a few years on the Mormon Lake Hotshots, Dustin and I were with the crew on the Klamath National Forest on a fire assignment. We went to “bed down” after our first shift around 9 pm; the area where our crew was sleeping had 3-foot tall grass, so we all stomped it down to flatten our individual sleeping spots. We routinely come back to this same area for the next 8 nights and finally on the 9th night, we got to our sleep spot a little earlier, and the sun was still out and it was not yet cold. As I went to put my sleeping bag down in my area, I noticed the ground was riddled with red fire ants. No big deal, I just had to move my sleeping spot and stomp down a different patch of grass. Since Dustin’s spot was close to mine, he noticed me doing this and voluntarily come over to help. We stomped for a while and once the job was done, we chatted for a bit… Dustin started scratching his ankles and shins mid-sentence. He kept scratching until we both looked down and noticed he was standing directly over a hole with pissed off hornets aggressively flying up his pant legs and stinging him. He quickly threw his pants off and shook them out and we laughed about it for a while before we went to bed. He told me the next day that one of the hornets found its way into the bottom of his sleeping bag and stung his foot in the middle of the night. But Dustin was tough and nails and a good sport, so of course, he told us all with a big ‘ol grin on his face.
Story 2 On a typical morning on a fire, we wake up at about 5-5:30, take 10 minutes to pack up our stuff and jump in the buggy to drive to fire camp. One morning, Dustin jumps in the buggy and he’s covered in feathers and his sleeping bag has a giant rip in it. He told us he had a dream he was fighting someone and did a hulk move in his sleep, and literally busted right out of his sleeping bag.
Dustin’s first fire as a filler with the Mormon Lake Hotshots…
On the Thompson Ridge fire in New Mexico, I was so excited for Dustin to be with us because I knew he would do great and I really wanted him to get on the crew. It was off to a great start, and of course everyone loved him right away. We got put on night shift and the first night we had to dig line. Once our mission was complete, we went back to the buggy. After chillin for a bit, I noticed Dustin rubbing his face in distress. I asked him what was wrong, and he looked at me with his face was covered in hives. He said “bro, I think I’m allergic to my sweat!” My first thought was “how the hell do you plan on doing this job if that’s the case?” But once again, he laughed it off and figured out how to deal with it. He got a head band and wiped his face with wet wipes once or twice a day.
Once, on a slow part of a fire assignment on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, someone that had been on the crew for a few years before Dustin and I told Dustin there was a record set by a former crew member. He told Dustin that someone had eaten 17 Uncrustable Smuckers PB&J sandwiches in one sitting (a common item to get put into our fire lunches). Dustin took this as a challenge and immediately accepted it. We gathered all the Uncrustable sandwiches we could find and Dustin, along with 2 others, started eating. The first person puked after eating 8, the next person puked after eating 10, and Dustin kept eating and eating until he finally puked after eating 19… 19! It was one of the funniest moments I’ve experienced on the crew. You could even tell the order in which he ate the sandwiches… grape, then strawberry, then grape again. We later found out that the “record of 17” was actually bullshit; the crew member just knew that if he told Dustin that, it would be a seemingly impossible goal that would instigate Dustin’s competitive side… and we all know what happened when Dustin would compete.
Grace Fullmer – Ponderosa pine trees are my favorite tree. Covering the hillsides that cradle Prescott, they are the protectors of our little town. No matter how far you travel, they will always be there, waiting for you to come home. I love how they offer shade during hot summer days; how they emit a sweet smell of butterscotch if you get close enough; how they remain tall and strong during the driest of seasons, and how they are willing to fall for the overall well-being of the forest. When I think of a Ponderosa pine tree, I can’t help but think of Dustin. Some of my favorite moments with him were spent traipsing through the woods either by foot or by truck. When we were teenagers, the woods were celebrated around a large bonfire, beers in hand and the magic of youth fierce in the air. He always was a good partier. As we got older, the woods became our hang-out spot. He would pick me up from my house, and we would head up the windy dirt road of Copper Basin. Along the way, we would talk about the state of the forest, about ecology and fire, but also about everything else. Boy he could talk your ear off. I remember the way he lit up as we talked, and it was so sweet to see how much he loved his work, and how knowledgeable he was. Many times, the drives would summit at the overlook, where we would stare out at the horizon of purple and blue hills beyond the borders of Skull Valley. Over the course of our 18 year friendship, there are countless memories of middle school (and beyond) crushes, of his warm hugs, of partying, of dancing at Matt’s during a visit home, of crying over heartbreak, of his beaming smile that looked painful because it was so big, of loss and love, and everything else. But my favorite memories are of who he was (or is). Like the Ponderosa pine tree, he was a guardian and protector; he supported and cared for everyone that he loved (okay, let’s be honest, anyone that crossed his path); his hugs were big and warm like a summertime wildfire, he genuinely listened, especially while sitting at the bar drinking a beer; he always created space to hang out, even if that meant going to Bucky’s on Christmas day to play blackjack; he was the easiest to be around; and his heart was undeniably pure. But mostly, he was always there, he was family, he was… home. I have tried to think about how to thank you, Dustin… and the list is too long and complicated. But I will say, thank you for your love and unending friendship that crossed numerous decades and states of being. I can still feel that love burning like a forest fire. I hope it never goes away, but if it ever feels like it is, I will hit the trail and walk under the canopy of the Ponderosa Pine tree- knowing that you will always be around to offer warmth through the feeling of a classic Dustin hug.