Friends Honor City Slaying Victim
Dozens Work To Create Tribute Video
PENN LAIRD — For Sarah Cruey, last weekend’s murder of 19-year-old Ben Graessle hit close to home.
The 20-year-old James Madison University student and Grottoes resident went to the prom with Graessle during their junior year at Spotswood High School.
Cruey, who graduated with Graessle in 2011, said her former classmate was always happy.
“He had this big goofy grin,” said Cruey. “You never saw him without a smile.”
Cruey, and about two dozen other former classmates and friends gathered at SHS on Thursday to record videos of their memories of Graessle, who lived in Elkton before moving to Harrisonburg after high school.
Taylor Hautanen, 17, of Harrisonburg, went on a few dates with Graessle. She too echoed Cruey’s feelings.
“He was a good guy,” she said. “He was always a gentleman. He’s was the only guy that ever opened the door for me and pulled out my chair.”
The school’s former baseball coach, Mike Thompson, plans to take the recordings and make a DVD. The friends then plan on giving the completed video to Graessle’s mother.
“Hopefully the video will show his mom that everyone loved him,” said Cruey. “Maybe she’ll hear some stories about Ben she didn’t know. She’ll have them forever.”
Police say Dallas Chaplin, 19, of Staunton shot and killed Graessle around 1 a.m. on Dec. 23 outside an apartment at The Commons, located in the 800 block of Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg. The complex is one of many in the area that cater to students attending nearby James Madison University.
Chaplin, who was arrested Thursday after a three-hour standoff at a Staunton home, is charged with first-degree murder and felony use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the slaying of Graessle, 19, formerly of Elkton.
Sources say Chaplin shot Graessle while Givi Dudunia, 19, of Staunton, was assaulting him.
Dudunia, who was arrested shortly after the shooting, is charged with misdemeanor assault and battery.
Both men are being held at the Rockingham County Jail without bond.
Graessle, who played baseball and football for the Trailblazers, was attending Blue Ridge Community College and planned to transfer to JMU.
Kevin Rinker, 20, of Penn Laird, knew Graessle since middle school. The pair ran cross-country together.
“He always had a lot of heart,” said Rinker. “Every race, he came up and said he was going to beat me.”
Jordan Buchanan, 20, of Elkton, had played baseball with Graessle since he was 5 years old. He said his fondest memory of his friend is the way he always pushed him to work harder in the weight room and on the baseball field.
“Basically, we were brothers,” said Buchanan, who played outfield with Graessle on the high school baseball team. “We grew up together. We spent hours, days and weeks together. You could never catch us apart.”
While Stephanie Arbaugh, 19, of Grottoes, didn’t know Graessle well, she said she could tell he was a great guy by her observations of him at school.
“There wasn’t a dull moment in his life,” said Arbaugh, who graduated with him. “If someone was down in the dumps, he could have them smiling in two seconds.”
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org