It's not just that Kenneth Gram's family misses his quick wit at the holiday table. They also mourn a life cut short. A year later, they still don't know why the 22-year-old was fatally stabbed in Annapolis.
"The axis of the earth sort of tilted at a different axis after this," said John Gram, Kenneth's father.
"How does somebody go walking down the street and get killed? And how does this not get solved?" he said.
Annapolis police say leads and hunches haven't produced any leads. They are hoping that the one-year mark and the holiday season will bring them fresh information.
"The one thing I have always wondered is why did this person do this? Was it a gang initiation? Did he say something? Did somebody else say something? Did they try to rob him, and it was a robbery gone bad?" Gram said in a recent telephone interview from the family's southern California home. "What was their motivation? How did they miss out on the joys of life to make that sort of thing happen?"
John and Dawn Gram marked the first anniversary of their son's slaying by attending church, walking by the beach, and taking calls and e-mails. Their daughter, Danielle, a peace activist, is a senior at Harvard University. All three of them are determined, John Gram said, to celebrate the holidays this year. Last year's didn't really exist for them.
"I don't really want the killer to have the satisfaction that he is going to ruin the rest of our lives," he said, adding, "It will never be the same, there will always be a huge hole."
The family briefly lived in Edgewater. Kenneth Gram spent his first two years of high school at South River, where he played tuba in the Hawks Marching Band. The family returned to California, and he graduated in 2005 from Carlsbad High School. In 2009 he graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he majored in creative writing. A few of his poems were published locally.
Unsure of what he wanted to do next, Kenneth Gram worked as a cashier over the summer and used his savings to travel the Northeast with a girlfriend from the Edgewater area.
They wound from New England to Annapolis. They went with friends to the Whiskey, a club on West Street near Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis, the night of Nov. 17, 2009, said Detective John Lee.
Police believe that Gram left the bar around 1:30 a.m. Nov. 18, 2009, after the couple had a small argument, Lee said.
The group was going to the Double-T Diner on West Street at Route 2. Some people had already headed over, some were still at the club, Lee said.
"He left on foot by himself," Lee said. He suspects that Gram got lost.
Investigators believe that instead of walking on West Street, Gram walked down Chinquapin Round Road to Forest Drive. To the right, he'd have seen a dark road. "If he looked to the left, he saw lights and civilization," Lee said. "So that's the way he went."
Around 2 a.m. Annapolis police received an anonymous 911 call about a man lying by the side of Skippers Lane behind by the Cherry Grove Shopping Center and near the Newtowne 20 public housing community. A woman said she didn't know if the man was alive or dead.
Police arrived within a minute.
They found Kenneth Gram in a pool of blood, stabbed in the upper body. He died on the scene. So far, Lee said, investigators have no reason to think people at the bar, or Gram's friends, or the Newtowne community were involved. Theories fizzled.
"We don't believe it's drug-related. We don't think it's robbery — all his possessions were intact," Lee said. "So we are kind of at a loss."
A year later, the unanswered questions gnaw at police and the people who loved Gram.
Lee said they'd like to hear from the 911 caller again. Police think that there are people who know what happened, saw or heard something. Maybe heard something second-hand.
Anyone with information is asked to call Lee at 410-349-6744. Metro CrimeStoppers is offering a $2,000 reward for information.