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Grieving Grandmother is at Odds With Community

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DURHAM — A Durham woman wants to memorialize her grandson at the place where he died, but some people think she should find another place to do it.

Lola Sturgiss and members of that Durham community are at odds over a roadside cross.

It's just one memorial for one young man who died on Hillcrest Avenue in Durham, but it's become a city-wide debate over respect for loved ones lost versus respect for residents' rights. The controversial issue began with one grandmother's grief.

Only a single flower is lying on the ground where the memorial to Christopher David Page once stood. For a fifth time since his death his grandmother, Lola Sturgiss, is preparing to replace the cross she says someone keeps stealing.

"He died there, and his soul left him on that spot right there," says Sturgiss.

She plans to adorn this latest cross the same way she did the others -- with flowers and the word 'murder' written on the front. She says she wants it to serve as a reminder of the way her grandson was gunned down during a drug deal.

But, that's just the kind of memory some people in the community don't want. Some residents say the memorial is a negative symbol of past troubles in the neighborhood.

Brenda Burnette is a member of the Durham City Council. That body must decide if there should be restrictions on such memorials. Burnette says it's hard to balance the feelings and rights of mourning families with the rights of residents.

"From a city perspective, I think we have to remove them within a certain length of time. That doesn't mean I feel any differently in my heart," says Burnette.

There are some residents say the Memorial is good for the community.

"I appreciate seeing this when I come home, because when I see it I think 'Hey, that could have been one of my kids. My kid could have been out here,' " says Kelvin Williams. "So, leave it alone -- leave her alone, and all of us will remember what happened on that night."

"If they make me remove mine then there's hundreds of others," says Sturgiss. "Nobody has got more rights than I do."

Page died eight months ago. His grandmother wants to keep the memorial up until there's a conviction in his murder case.

Her answer could come Monday evening when the Council holds a public hearing on the issue to hear arguments from all sides. The Council will then have to decide if roadside memorials should be regulated.

Monday would have been Page's 19th Birthday.