A Knife Completes A Circle of Grieving

A Knife Completes A Circle of Grieving
"Art of the Knife" doesn't require anything more than being appreciated for its beauty.
Stefan Neil Palmer made this knife to raise funds in memory of Dustin Chamberlain.
Knifemaker Stefan Neil Palmer made a knife in memory of Dustin Chamberlain to be auctioned off. He never knew it would change his life.

While at his parents’ Siloam Springs, Arkansas, home for Christmas break 2011, 20-year-old Dustin Chamberlain was shot dead by an intruder. Nearly five years later, knifemaker and racecar driver Stefan Neil Palmer was asked by his racing mentor if he would make a knife to auction off to raise money for Dustin’s Dream, the charity foundation organized in Dustin’s memory. Stefan agreed, but when he laser-engraved Dustin’s favorite saying on the handle, everyone agreed that the knife could never be auctioned off.

On Dec. 15, 2011 Dustin, a biology-pre-med sophomore at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, was resting at home after a minor outpatient procedure. Both his parents left for work with Dustin’s reassurance that he didn’t need anyone to stay with him. His father, Don, had planned to have lunch with him. At approximately 10:45 a.m. Dustin’s mother, Deondra, called the house and Dustin’s cell phone repeatedly but got no answer. She called Don and asked him to check on their son.

Don walked into the Chamberlain home to find his son lying dead just inside the door with four gunshot wounds. In the family room, he found a stranger with what police subsequently said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound that later proved fatal. The investigation revealed that the stranger was a local man who had been reported missing, depressed and possibly suicidal. He had wandered onto the Chamberlain property, and evidence showed he’d been on the premises for two hours before the Chamberlains left for work.

It’s an understatement to say that the Chamberlain’s lives were changed forever, but as day followed day, God showed them how they could carry on Dustin’s name and spirit, Don explained. “It’s been therapeutic,” he said, referring to the charity they set up in remembrance of their son. In honor of Dustin’s dream to one-day become a doctor, Dustin’s Dream sets up medical clinics in third-world countries and funds teams to conduct medical mission trips to those countries. They also offer scholarships for aspiring medical students.

Dustin's Dream Racing member Stefan Neil Palmer made a knife to benefit the charity.
Knifemaker Stefan Neil Palmer made a knife to auction off in benefit of Dustin’s Dream.

In 2013, two years after Dustin’s murder, Chamberlain family friend Steve Butler decided to use his racing hobby to support Dustin’s Dream. Steve introduced Stefan to Dustin’s Dream Racing, which raises money for the foundation “while being a positive, Godly influence” in the sport of racing, according to their web page. In the summer of 2016 it was suggested that Stefan make a knife to auction off to benefit Dustin’s Dream.

So Stefan set out to make the best knife he could to honor Dustin. The 3.112-inch hollow-ground drop-point hunter was constructed using buckshot-pattern steel forged by Brad Vice’s Alabama Damascus. “It’s my favorite pattern,” Stefan said. And buckshot- or raindrop-pattern damascus is his favorite steel. The handle was made from camel bone and brass with—fittingly—a checkerboard inlay front and rear of the handle. The shinbone of the camel is an economical choice, but it’s the ideal medium for laser engraving, explained Stefan. The rubbing compound left in the pores of the bone lend it that gray undertone. Signature filework runs from the tip to the butt of the spine. “It turned out great,” stated Stefan.

Knifemaker Stefan Neil Palmer made a sheath to accompany the knife he made to benefit Dustin's Destiny.
Stefan Neil Palmer’s accompanying sheath notes Hebrews 12:1-2, which includes in part “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

He went to Steve to see if there was anything that Dustin was known for saying. Steve showed Stefan what the Chamberlains had written about Dustin. “Whenever anyone asked Dustin how he could consistently make wise choices and live his faith, Dustin would say, ‘Because I love God with all my heart and I don’t want to give Him anything less than my best.’” Stefan explained, “I put that on the knife. When I looked at the finished product, I knew the knife was not for someone to buy. It was priceless and needed to go to Don.”

Stefan took his dilemma to Steve and it was agreed that a second knife would be made for the auction. The trick was to keep Don’s knife a secret, made harder by the fact that Don expressed great interest in the knife. Steve suggested to Don that he not bid on it because people would then back off their own bidding in an attempt to make sure that Dustin’s father ended up with Dustin’s knife. The racing team wanted the knife to bring in as much money for the foundation as possible.

In the end, at Dustin’s 5th Heavenly Birthday Chili Supper and Baked Goods Auction on Dec. 10, 2016, Stefan presented the original knife to Don, with both giver and receiver ending up in tears. “It changed my life,” Stefan said. “I’m not so likely to cut someone off on the race track with the Dustin’s Dream sticker on my car,” he added with easy laugh. (The T in the Dustin’s Dream logo is in the shape of a cross.) He relates how so many people have been affected for the better through Dustin’s example and the strength of the Chamberlains. “So much beauty has come out of it,” Stefan said.

Stefan Neil Palmer holds one of two knives he ended up making in honor of Dustin Chamberlain.
Dr. Carl Duncan, left, ended up with the knife Stefan Neil Palmer, center, made in honor of Dustin, the son of Don Chamberlain, right.

The Chamberlains never returned to their home. Don manages a beef cattle ranch and other properties for his boss, and the couple and their daughter stayed at the ranch the night of the murder. They found a place to rent, but the two payments nearly put them under financially. All the while, Don said he was thinking, “I wish I could afford to just give it away to a couple who could help foster children.” Two years later, a doctor—surprise, surprise—Carl Duncan and his wife, Carol, purchased the home, and—you guessed it—they had foster children.

It was Carol who ended up with the winning bid of $3000 on the second knife, and she presented it to her husband. According to the Dustin’s Dream website, the racing team has raised $45,000 for the foundation.

Stefan’s wife, Raquel, bringing the story full circle, is returning to school to become a doctor—in the same specialty as the doctor who purchased the house and the knife. She and Stefan hope one day to accompany a medical mission team through Dustin’s Dream. Don and Deondra, a nurse, are returning to Guatemala through Dustin’s Dream for his second trip and her third. If you want to know what you can do to get involved, visit www.DustinsDream.net/give.

When Don returned to the house that fateful day, he thought it was odd that the family’s Jack Russell-rat terrier cross was out in the yard. Cricket was trembling in fear, and, uncharacteristically, she would not come to Don. It is believed that she raised a ruckus when the intruder broke into the house near her bed. Dustin came to see what the fuss was about. In yet another connection, I breed Jack Russells.

According to what police revealed to Don, the shooter asked his wife what it meant if someone was very depressed. She answered that it meant the person needed professional help. The husband and father of four reportedly said that he felt he was too much of a coward to do that. He took a gun and left the home.

I asked Don if he knew how the family was doing now. He said he didn’t, but that it had been on his heart to find out, and that my asking had solidified that course of action for him. And “no,” he said quietly, “I could never use that knife.” He has it on a dresser, along with the sheath and some photos. He wants to put it in a shadow box. “I could never use that knife,” he repeated.

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