Memorial Honors Slain SHS Grad
Friends, Family Gather To Remember Graessle
Posted: December 31, 2012
PENN LAIRD — Thirteen years ago, when he was 19, Mike Smith received a call from the director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
The director asked Smith, now 32, if he was willing to drive from Harrisonburg, where he attended James Madison University, to Elkton to be Ben Graessle’s “big brother.”
Smith made the trip down Spotswood Trail to meet Graessle, who was 6 years old at the time.
“He was looking at me like you better run now because I’m going to wear you out,” said Smith.
Smith was one of roughly 200 people to attend a Celebration of Life service at Spotswood High School to honor Graessle, who was shot to death nearly a week earlier.
Police say Dallas Chaplin, 19, of Staunton shot and killed Graessle around 1 a.m. on Dec. 23 outside the apartment building where Graessle lived on Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg.
Chaplin 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 faces several charges, including accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Both men are being held without bond in the Rockingham County Jail.
Ben’s ‘Big Brother’
After a year of mentoring Graessle, Smith transferred from JMU to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he is now the track coach.
Although he left the Shenandoah Valley, his relationship with Graessle continued.
Graessle would often visit Smith at Georgetown and Smith would return to the Valley to visit his “little brother.”
“He’d go everywhere with me,” said Smith. “He’d sit in on lectures and come to track practices with me.”
Smith said Graessle was a caring person who was full of life.
“Energy. Loyalty. Love,” said Smith. “Those are the words I think of when I think of Ben.”
Logan Hull, 20, of Elkton, organized the service for the 2011 SHS graduate.
Graessle and Hull had been friends since they were toddlers.
“You could be in the worst mood ever and talk to Ben, and see that smile … he could change that bad day into a great day in a matter of seconds,” said Hull.
His friends say he had a heart of gold, and wanted to give back to the organization that had helped him in life.
Graessle recently began the process of becoming a Big Brother.
“I was pretty impressed, but not surprised,” said Smith. “His mom taught him to give back.”
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org