Casualties, Homicide

Mother struggling with death of her son by his brother

Jennifer Runnion sat on her living room couch recently, smiling and laughing about some of her son’s intricate drawings, figurines made from aluminum foil and model airplanes built with LEGO blocks.

Jennifer Runnion sat on her living room couch recently, smiling and laughing about some of her son’s intricate drawings, figurines made from aluminum foil and model airplanes built with LEGO blocks.
The next minute she was shedding tears describing his playful spirit and love for others.
It’s been three months since 16-year-old Aja Dasa was stabbed to death at their home on Webber Way on Spartanburg’s east side.
“I take it day by day, minute by minute sometimes,” Runnion said.
Aja was found collapsed and bleeding from a stab wound to the abdomen on a neighbor’s front porch after running there for help Feb. 11.
Spartanburg police charged his 18-year-old brother, Amarendra Dasa, with the fatal stabbing after finding him hiding in a wooded area not far from the home.
The sheer domestic nature of Aja’s killing has left Runnion struggling to make sense of it all.
“I can’t really believe it happened,” she said. “I don’t think there will ever be closure.”

Police had described Amarendra Dasa as being schizophrenic, which they said may have played a role in the killing, though Runnion said his diagnosis was recently improved to a milder schizoaffective disorder.
She would not elaborate on her 18-year-old son and said she can’t bring herself to forgive him for what police say he has done.
But Aja would already have forgiven his big brother had he survived the stabbing, Runnion said.
“He didn’t want to see anybody sad or mad,” she said through tears. “He was the light in the room.”
“He just wanted to have fun more than anything,” Jeremiah Macy, another one of Aja’s older brothers, said.
The day of the killing, their home was laden with yellow evidence markers and about a dozen police officers and detectives taking pictures inside to investigate Spartanburg’s first homicide of 2015.
The family’s home sits in the quiet Webber Place community of mostly retirees. An outside door mat reads “Bless This Home.” The living room is well-kept. During a recent visit, the family dog, Jasmine, was lounging on the carpet in the living room.

A 911 recording obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request depicts the confusion among neighbors when spotting Aja’s body through their front windows the day he was killed
“Anyway, there’s a boy lying on her front porch. We can’t tell if he’s dead or not. I’m not going out there,” the 911 caller said frantically. “I don’t know if he’s alive or not. I think he’s dead. I don’t understand it.”
Aja Dasa had Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism, and was somewhat socially awkward but outgoing at the same time, his mother said. She said his excitement for life didn’t stop him from meeting new people and keeping his family busy.
He loved Asian culture, computer games like Minecraft, “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek” and comic books. He was smart, Runnion said, and had aspirations to go into mechatronics, a combination of several engineering fields.

“I used to call him my little genius,” she said. He would take handfuls of LEGO blocks and use them to create a “masterpiece.”
“He had quite the imagination. He was an amazing young man,” she added.
Intellect aside, he was a handful and kept the family on their toes, Runnion said. Setting things on fire or running away on a whim to find someone to play with were not uncommon.

“He climbed before he walked,” she said.
Aja was a 10th-grade student at Spartanburg High School.
District 7 spokeswoman Erika Shoolbred issued a statement the day following the stabbing asking the community to pray for the family and Aja’s teachers and friends “as they all try to come to grips with this great loss,” she said.
Aja was buried in Oregon, where he grew up. A GoFundMe online fundraiser was set up by Macy and had raised $5,106 within two months. The money was raised to transport Aja’s body to Oregon and pay for funeral and travel expenses.
As a mother, Runnion’s challenge is to continue to be strong for her other children, she said.
“People will say, ‘You’re so strong. I couldn’t do it,’” she said. “But when this is handed to you, what choice do you have? … I’m doing what I have to do.”
Nearly two years ago, Runnion lost her eldest son, Zack, who was struck and killed in a vehicle crash. He went into a roadway to save his cat from being hit by a car, and the car struck him instead, she said. He died but the cat, Cyrus, survived and is now living in their Webber Way home.

While Runnion was still struggling with grief from losing her eldest son, Aja was killed. The fond memories are what sustain her and her family.
“He was a child’s spirit,” Runnion said, swiping through old photos of Aja on an iPad.
Macy, 23, said he still has not processed losing his little brother.
“I really haven’t had much closure at all,” he said. “I have a wife and a son of my own, and I don’t really have time to think about it.”
In his online fundraiser, Macy described his brother as “such a bright, shining star.”
Runnion said if anything can be gleamed from Aja’s death, it’s that the family has grown closer.
“There’s a lesson to be learned,” she said. “For whatever reason, there’s a lesson in all of it.”

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