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'If some good can come out of this'

Vicki Graves had no idea hamburgers could lead to heartbreak, or how her story could spread.

In four days, a post lamenting the drive-thru she passed in the hours before her son, 33-year-old Matthew Thayer Graves, was shot to death by police at an Eagle Point fast food restaurant had been shared more than 900 times as of Thursday afternoon.

“I am so sorry, Matt,” Vicki Graves posted on Facebook. “If I would have stopped, you would be alive now, because you would not have walked there.”

Her 714-word post garnered more than 500 messages of support from family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. Some commenters knew Vicki only through the Persian cats she bred, while others related to her heartbreak as parents, or as relatives of their own loved ones struggling with mental illness. Matthew Graves suffered from schizophrenia.

Outside Matt’s memorial service Thursday afternoon at Rogue Valley Funeral Alternatives in Medford, Vicki Graves and her husband, Mike, said they’ve been heartened by the hundreds of positive messages.

“That helps, that helps to get through a time like this,” she said.

“She doesn’t want Matt to disappear,” Matt’s sister Laurie Bentson of Scottsdale, Arizona, said of their mother. “We need to understand what happened, why it happened and learn — seek the truth — and bring awareness to some of these situations.”

As of Thursday, the family had not received any official answers as to why police engaged Matthew Graves the evening of Sept. 19, or what led to the shooting in a Carl’s Jr. bathroom. Those details won’t be released until a grand jury hearing, which the family anticipates will occur next week.

What’s known is that a Taser was used prior to two gunshots being fired inside the restroom, but further details have not been released.

Laurie Bentson said her brother made numerous two-mile walks to town over the past six years. He’d lived with his parents clean and sober for nearly seven years. He’d usually walk fast, have audible and animated conversations with himself, then bring his hamburgers home. The family doesn’t know what was different that night.

“He loved to walk. I think he’d use that time to process his thoughts, and sometimes super animated and arms flying, and that’s OK. That’s OK,” Bentson said.

At the service, Graves’ body was laid to rest with the long hair Bentson said he loved, along with a simple, dark T-shirt. About 40 loved ones filled the funeral parlor, where between tears family found lighter moments, such as the movies Matt enjoyed most — usually scary ones, though his favorite was the 1997 Lisa Kudrow comedy “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.”

Graves’ struggles with mental illness began after he finished high school, according to his family. He’d graduated from Eagle Point High School and attended Rogue Community College and Abdill Career College toward a goal of becoming a medical assistant, but by the time the goal was within reach, he started to struggle. Graves was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012 while in jail for drug and property crimes committed against family members.

Laurie Bentson’s teen children Henry, Jeremy and Hollie remembered Matt as outgoing in their early years, and was devoted to them despite his struggles.

“He still wanted to spend time with us, he was still there,” Jeremy said.

The loss has inspired others in the community to organize a mental health awareness rally in Matt’s name, slated to run from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, outside Eagle Point’s police department at 17 S. Buchanan Ave.

Though the Graves family is not involved with “Justice for Matthew Graves: A Rally for Mental Health Awareness,” which was organized by Rhonda Capello, whose daughter suffers from mental illness, members said they support efforts to bring mental illness issues to light.

“He was a good boy and a good kid, and I’m not going to hold grudges right now,” Vicki Graves said. “It doesn’t do any good.”

Bentson said she respects the rally’s intent, and she expressed hope that her family’s loss won’t be in vain.

“I think if some good can come out of this — more awareness, community involvement — I think that’s great,” Bentson said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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