Lynchburg business owner helps boy with autism pay for mother’s gravestone

‘I’m going to see to it that that’s done, that a real marker is going to be put there’

A boy wanting to remember his late mother is getting help from a complete stranger.

LYNCHBURG, Va. – It was another day at Accents Flags, Gifts, Home and Garden in Downtown Lynchburg, when suddenly, a boy walked in and right up to the owner, Deborah Keeling.

“I’ll never forget, the first thing he asked was if I’m a Christian,” said Keeling.

Eleven-year-old Jamarius Burneson wanted to buy something for his mother’s gravesite, not only because it’s his mom.

“[But] because Jesus wants me to go, so I follow that,” said Jamarius.

His biological mother, Alfreda, died in 2019 after a battle with diabetes. She was 33 years old.

Jamarius’ adoptive mom, Pattie Burneson, says he has autism and diagnosed with PTSD. But that doesn’t stop the fifth grader.

“Jamarius touches people everywhere we go. He’s just a beautiful child. He has an amazing heart and considering what he’s been through in his life, he’s coming through really well,” said Burneson.

That had an effect on Keeling, who helped the boy pick out a memorial flag and inscribed it.

“That sweet, nice lady is really caring about me,” said Jamarius.

But then he told Keeling a small nameplate is the only thing marking his mom’s final resting place at Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery. There’s no gravestone.

“I didn’t say anything, but thought to myself, ‘I’m going to see to it that that’s done, that a real marker is going to be put there,” said Keeling.

Keeling posted her intentions on Facebook and received an outpouring of support.

“I had people here at 9 a.m., the next day I posted [the story], dropping off checks and money,” said Keeling.

“I was just crying and like, ‘I can’t believe you want to do this for my child.’ [Jamarius] was crying, and we were just so happy,” said Burneson.

Due to historical restrictions, they can’t place a stand-up gravestone as Jamarius wants, but when the memorial is installed in two months, it will have his personal message to his mom.

“[I love you mommy]. I’m going to meet you in heaven,” said Jamarius.

Keeling said she’s paying about $500 for the stone herself, as a gift to Jamarius. She received nearly $500 in donations so far, which will go to savings for Jamarius’ future.

You can donate through Venmo to 434-258-9243 or drop off a gift at the store located at 1716 Main St., Lynchburg, VA, 24504.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.