Twenty five years ago, a promising young man lost his life on Baltimore's streets. You can imagine what a difficult anniversary it is every year for his parents and loved ones. But their pain is only deepened, knowing that their son's killer has yet to be found.
Ellen Bentley is convinced that someone out there knows something about her son's murder. Even after 25 years, she continues to share his story, not only to keep his memory alive but to encourage those who could help solve this decades-old case to finally break their silence.
A single white bloom on a peace lily in her living room reminds Bentley that her son Donald is always with her.
"His birthday is in April," she said. "Every year, in April, this is August, that thing, plant, blooms at least twice a year,"
The plant is at least 25 years old, several years older than Donald Bentley ever got to be. It was a gift from Morehouse College, where Donald was sophomore at the time of his murder. He was gunned down at 19 on a visit home to Baltimore.
"He was a wonderful child," Bentley said. "A good child, brought a lot of joy to our lives. We miss him very much."
Donald was a standout athlete in football and track and field at the Gilman School. On top of that, he was a skilled debater. He was handsome, popular, ambitious.
"I think he could've done whatever he wanted to do," Bentley said. "Providing he had been able to, to live his life. I just think his life was taken from him ahead of time."
The last moments spent with her son are forever imprinted on her mind.
"He said, 'I'm going out with some friends.' So I said, 'You know what, you're gone so much, maybe you need to stay here.' And he said, 'Oh, I'll be fine,'" Bentley recalled. "Right front door he came to me and just sort of kissed me on the cheek and I said, 'Heck, you come back here and you give your mom a bear hug.' So he did, he came back and gave me a big hug and went on out.
Their last words to each other ring in Bentley's mind as clear as a bell.
"'Don't stay out too late,'" she said. "And he says, 'Oh I'm with my friends. We look out for one another.'"
It was the last time Donald Bentley would hug his mother, never imagining that going to a party with friends at the Wall Street Lounge, on Maryland Avenue near North Avenue, would result in his last breath on August 11, 1989.
"It was a warm summer evening, the victim and his friends were outside," said Det. Jeremy Silbert of the Baltimore Police Department. "And that's when a vehicle pulled up. This was described as a blue car. A few suspects got out of that vehicle, they approached the victim at which time, an unknown suspect began shooting."
Over the years, Ellen Bentley has been told it was a robbery, a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But until someone comes forward, she'll never be sure.
"The hardest part is having someone take my son's life, not knowing why," she said. "It's the ultimate, you know. And it's, I don't know about other people, but I can't imagine, I don't think I'll ever get over it."
Bentley tries her best to keep busy. She and her husband help run the Donald Bentley Food Pantry in East Baltimore. Fellow Gilman students founded the pantry 24 years ago in Donald's memory. Josh Julius is the pantry's director and has been involved in its operation since day one.
"We were involved in some food issues at the time, Donald was deeply interested in social justice issues, so the two kind of come together as something we were thinking of doing anyway and it seemed like an appropriate memorial to Donald," Julius said.
The pantry provides food to about 200 families a week.
"The reason I can go on, I find it helps me to help other people," Bentley said.
Bentley is also a member and former chairwoman of SAVE, which stands for Survivors Against Violence Everywhere. It's a support group for people who have lost loved ones to violence.
"You put your arms around a person, a lot of times you may not know what to say, sometimes you don't need to say anything," she said. "You just put your arms around them and it helps."
Though she has the comfort of family, friends and her church, she's missing the one thing that would comfort her most.
"I would love to know who," Bentley said. "I would like to meet that person, I've always said that. 'Why, what had Don done to you? Or what had any of these kids?'"
Instead she's left to ponder what could have been, and imagine the man her son who aspired to be mayor of Baltimore would have become.
"I just feel he could have made such a difference, some way, if he had been able to live," she said. "Made a difference in somebody's life, hopefully the world."
Baltimore Police ask that anyone who may have any details to share about this case call the department's homicide section at (410) 396-2100. You can remain anonymous.