CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - After his death in June, Denzel Curnell's family held on to his U.S. Army jacket, labeled with his last name in block letters across the front. The jacket will forever remain a shell, never to be filled again with the teen or his hopes and dreams.
"He wanted to work and learn, do a little bit of traveling," Curnell's stepfather Dwayne German said. "Often we'd talk that his eldest son would be named after me. I won't get that grandson now."
Curnell died in what officials called an "officer-involved shooting" at the Bridgeview Village Apartments in June. DNA and forensic evidence showed the officer never touched the weapon that fired the fatal shot. State Law Enforcement Division investigators ruled his death a suicide.
"I don't believe he killed himself," German said.
The incident and subsequent investigation put Curnell's name in the headlines for weeks.
"That's notoriety I don't want. I'd much rather him coming in the door right now," German said.
German, who said he raised Curnell from the age of two, remembered the last time he talked to his shy son the night he died. Curnell said he was having a normal night and would be home. He expected to come home to find his stepson asleep with video games still playing on the television.
"The last memories I have of him were sitting in his room, watching television, telling me everything was cool and he was good," German said.
That night, officials said Curnell stole a gun from his stepfather and went to the Bridgeview Village Apartments. His stepfather said that was out of character; Curnell never used his gun and had no reason to go to Bridgeview. Curnell's sister Lonese Lang was visiting friends in the apartment complex that night, but said her brother didn't know she was there.
"He was partially raised there. He knew a lot of people, friends and family there, even though it wasn't the type of place I'd like him to be," German said.
The incident has left the 19 year old's family struggling to move on, since it doesn't believe the conclusions of the SLED investigation. Lang said she would not believe Curnell committed suicide until she could see video evidence. However, the Bridgeview Village Apartments surveillance video secured by SLED in the investigation is inexplicably missing the crucial minutes of the shooting.
"I don't have the answers. I really don't. I wish I did. I wish someone could give them to me," German said.
Military records from late 2013 showed Curnell was discharged from the army because of depression and "suicidal ideations." He wrote in an army evaluation form, "I am usually quiet and will do what is told but will snap when the moment arises." His stepfather reasoned he was homesick and still missed his mother, who died in January 2013 from cancer, German said.
"He took it as well as anyone at his age could, losing their mother so young. He watched her suffer for a long time," German said.
German and his stepdaughter remembered the teen for the good he could have done.
"He was very family oriented, good natured, easy to know and you would like to know him. I think he could've done a lot of good, had he had the chance to grow and live," German said.
They hoped they would find justice and peace. For them, justice could mean a new law named for Curnell that would restrict law enforcement's ability to approach people based on their appearance. The officer who approached Curnell on the night of his death stated he did so because of the teen's dress: dark, long sleeve clothing in the middle of summer.
Ultimately, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced she would not file charges against the officer involved, due to a lack of evidence.
German and his family are still considering further legal action. Attorney Andy Savage represents the family.