Fatal shooting inspires antiviolence vigil

The Roanoke Times | Friday, September 27, 2013

Deborah Saunders admits her sons have made some mistakes in life. One is in jail and another is in prison.

But Derek, she says, was on the right track. He’d had criminal charges in the past, too, and spent time behind bars, but he was reforming his life.

Rudy and Deborah Saunders stand together Thursday at the Roanoke City Market, where Deborah has run Artful Expressions for 19 years. Their 41-year-old son was gunned down in Roanoke early Saturday. Photo by Joel Hawksley | The Roanoke Times

Rudy and Deborah Saunders stand together Thursday at the Roanoke City Market, where Deborah has run Artful Expressions for 19 years. Their 41-year-old son was gunned down in Roanoke early Saturday. Photo by Joel Hawksley | The Roanoke Times

When an officer told Saunders that her 41-year-old son was gunned down in Roanoke early Saturday, she almost had to be hospitalized herself.

“I just fell back,” Saunders said Thursday. “I fell flat on my back.”

Derek Randell Price of Roanoke was found dead in the street in the 2700 block of Centre Avenue Northwest about 4:35 a.m. Saturday with a wound to the midsection, said police spokesman Scott Leamon.

Police initially had responded to a call reporting gunshots just after 4 a.m. but didn’t find any victims or witnesses willing to talk, Leamon said. After collecting evidence, they began to patrol the area and received a second call reporting gunfire about half an hour later.

A search warrant filed in Roanoke Circuit Court on Tuesday says numerous bullet casings were found and several vehicles were struck by gunfire.

Saunders said a Roanoke detective spoke with her this week and told her Price was an innocent victim of the shooting. She said her son died protecting his cousin from the barrage of gunfire coming from a car driving down the street.

Leamon said he could not confirm those details because of the “integrity of the investigation.”

Detective S.R. Terwilliger wrote in the warrant that a beige 2006 Cadillac parked on Centre Avenue had been struck by a bullet in the rear passenger-side window. He said the bullet struck the dashboard.

The warrant sought permission to search the vehicle, which Leamon said was not Price’s car. In part, the warrant hoped to find documents that might show ownership, Terwilliger said.

Investigators seized a lighter, a receipt, money, a bullet, “white powder substance” and keys, according to the warrant.

Leamon said no arrests had been made in the case Thursday.

Price spent time in prison after a 1993 drug-related conviction in Roanoke, and again after he got out and had his probation revoked, according to online court records. In 2012 he served six months in prison for assaulting a police officer, records show.

But Saunders said her son was improving his life. He lived near Washington Park and stayed out of trouble, she said.

Saunders believes he was on Centre Avenue Friday night visiting with a relative or friend of his girlfriend. Price planned to propose to her this year, and she was pregnant with his child, Saunders said.

Price also had a 17-year-old daughter from another relationship, and he accepted as his own his girlfriend’s other children, Saunders said.

“He was so happy because he had finally found true love and a family,” Saunders said. “He was just looking to the future.”

Saunders, who has operated Artful Expressions on the Roanoke City Market for 19 years, said she has received an outpouring of support. She and her husband, Rudy Saunders, accepted a line of hugs and well-wishes Thursday afternoon.

“It’s just been a lot of love and support, and anger too because of the violence,” she said.

Price’s identical twin, Detrick Price, has been in Roanoke City Jail for several months awaiting trial on his own charges. Late Thursday, Saunders received a call with news that he was approved by a judge to attend his brother’s funeral on Tuesday.

Her other son, Christopher Saunders, 20, is serving time at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap.

“I have suffered so much loss,” she said.

Of all her children, though, Saunders said Derek seemed to be closest to turning things around.

“I worried the least about Derek, because I knew he had his life on track,” she said. “He wasn’t hanging in the street. He didn’t bother nobody.”

Price didn’t have life insurance, and Saunders said he didn’t want to be cremated. The family has set up a fund for funeral expenses. Donations can be made in Price’s name at any area SunTrust Bank location.

Family and friends have organized a candlelight vigil tonight at Washington Park in northwest Roanoke. City councilman Sherman Lea is set to speak, and other council members and the mayor have been invited. Leamon said a member of the police administration will attend as well.

“It is senseless,” Saunders said. “That’s what I can’t wrap my mind around. It was for nothing. My boy is gone over nothing. It’s just so unfair.”

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