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After a grueling three-week-long trial, grieving parents Gulcin and Celal Dede must now begin to put their lives back together after the tragic death of their son Diren in Missoula last April.

Gulcin Dede got the call on a Sunday morning. Her only son and youngest child, Diren, had been shot and killed.

"I was working and (Gulcin) was at home," Celal – Diren's father – explained over coffee Friday. "She took the call, and (they said) Diren has died in shooting." 

Diren's mother set the phone down on the table, thinking it was a joke. After all, she had just chatted with the teenager, as she did every day while he studied in Missoula.

When the police officers called back, though, she handed the phone to her daughter Esra, who speaks English.

When the shock set in, she started crying and yelling, Celal said. The neighbors gathered in their four-bedroom apartment, as Celal rushed home. Surely, there was some mistake, he thought.

"It must be a misunderstanding," Celal remembered thinking. "I went very first to home, and (my) cousins speak very well English. They called the police department and the hospital and it was true."

"Your son has died," they told him. 

In Turkish culture, Diren Dede was more than just a child – he was their baby and their boy. Diren was the son they pinned their hopes and dreams on. The son that would look after his sisters once their parents were gone. 

They were in disbelief. Their son had been fatally shot in the same quiet neighborhood where he lived with his beloved host parents, Kate Walker and Randy Smith, a world away from his parents in Germany.

"She don't like Sundays because that's when the call came," Celal explained. 

Sundays were once a day for the Dede family to gather together. Now it's a painful reminder of the day when Markus Kaarma took the life of their 17-year-old son, after he wandered into Kaarma's Grant Creek garage.  

Celal's English is halted, but remarkably good in the absence of formal training and only three weeks in the United States.

It's painful for him to recall that day, but there's a part of him that wants to share the story – and his family's story. So with the help of his attorney Andreas Thiel, he does. 


The Dedes' story is one many people in the United States can relate to; it's one of immigration, struggle, love and attempting to forge a better life for their children.

Both Celal's and Gulcin's families immigrated to Germany in the decades after World War II. In Turkey they were living in poverty, but Germany offered relative prosperity and perhaps endless possibilities.

There were more jobs than able-bodied adults, so Turks and Italians came to find work in the post-war, booming economy. 

When they were 23, Celal and Gulcin married in typical Turkish fashion – with more than 300 people in attendance to witness the wedding. Soon, they were pregnant with their first daughter, Basak. She was born in 1991. Their second daughter, Esra, was born in 1995. Diren was born in 1996.

From the beginning, Diren was a good-natured child.

"I never had any problem with him, even during puberty," Gulcin said.

He received good grades in school and started playing soccer when he was 6. He was quite popular in school, in the neighborhood and on his team. Eventually, Gulcin and Celal started their own taxi business. 

Celal drove 12 hours a day, while Gulcin stayed home with their kids and managed the paperwork. She said she never wanted her children to come home to an empty house, so she made sure to set the table with food and give them a listening ear when they walked in the door.

"I planned my day that the kids feel the love of a family," she said. Gulcin said that other children in the neighborhood would also come over – just to be a part of the loving environment. 


At 14, Diren decided he wanted to go to the United States for a year. At first, Gulcin was against it. But Diren's teachers convinced her otherwise. He wanted to perfect his English and learn American culture in order to better his chances at success. 

With such good grades, Diren was easily accepted into the exchange program, but of course his parents were worried. 

"He looked like a young man," Thiel said. "But from their point of view, he was still a child." 

In his goodbye, Celal told his son to represent his family well, and his son promised that he would make his father proud. In a few short years, he said, his father wouldn't have to work so hard.

Diren planned to get a degree in international management and become a businessman so he could support his family. 

The United States was a place of dreams and opportunity for the teen. 

"It was like a symbol for him – a symbol of freedom and success and for studies," Celal explained through Thiel. 

"Now when you look back, they always remember there was a party when Diren left and everybody was hugging and kissing and very intense," Thiel said. "Sometimes (now) you have the feeling that you said goodbye forever." 

Celal and Gulcin said Diren's reports of Missoula and his host parents were all positive. The teen seemed to be blossoming in Missoula: He was excelling in school, playing soccer and once again making new friends, like Robby Pazmino, an exchange student from Ecuador.

He described Missoula as a paradise, they said. 


On the evening of April 26, Diren and Pazmino decided to take a stroll about the neighborhood. Diren picked up a cat and began petting it, while the best friends talked about mountain lion sightings in the area.

According to Pazmino's testimony in court earlier this month, they almost went straight on Prospect Drive, but decided to turn onto Deer Canyon.

When they wandered by Kaarma's open garage, Diren wordlessly slipped inside and Pazmino waited. They had been with American kids who had done this before and come out with alcohol. 

As he waited, Pazmino said he heard a gunshot and took off running toward Diren's host parents' house. While he ran, he said he heard a male's voice say, "I see you there." 

Then he heard several more shots. Not knowing that Diren had been shot, Pazmino waited for his friend at the host parents' house.

Diren never arrived. 

According to prosecutors, Kaarma had become increasingly paranoid after his home was burglarized on April 17. His wife, Janelle Pflager, bought and installed motion detectors in their driveway and installed a baby monitor so they would know if someone entered the garage. Pflager also left an old purse in the garage with identifying items inside, in an effort to "bait" would-be burglars. 

When Diren entered the garage, Kaarma grabbed his loaded shotgun and exited the house. He positioned himself just outside and pumped, aimed and fired. He missed Diren on the first shot, but hit his arm on the second and missed again on the third.

From the blood spatter, investigators determined that Diren was hiding behind Kaarma's car when he stood up and faced Kaarma, who had re-positioned himself to fire a fourth time. 

"No, no, no, no, no, please!" Diren cried, according to Pflager's conversation with police. 

Kaarma fired the fourth and fatal shot, hitting Diren Dede on the left side of his head in what the prosecution would later call an "execution."  


The Dedes traveled to Missoula to attend Kaarma's deliberate homicide trial, and waded through days and then weeks of testimony that left them emotionally and physically exhausted.

They were flanked by two German attorneys, Thiel and Bernhard Docke, and sometimes German diplomats from the Consulate General in San Francisco. 

"For the last eight months, it was very hard to my family, and for the friends," Celal explained. "We have been waiting all this time. We are thinking of the man shooting our child and he is free ... and we think it's not normal." 

On Wednesday, after eight hours of deliberation, the jury found Kaarma guilty of deliberate homicide. His bail hearing is set for Dec. 24 at 2 p.m. and his sentencing is currently set for Feb. 13.

Celal and Gulcin held each other and sobbed when the jury delivered the decision. Gulcin hugged her newfound American friends who swarmed her, while Celal wept tears of joy. 

"Diren, we made it," she cried.

It was a relief, Celal explained Friday, but still it will take years to heal their pain and put their fractured lives back together. Celal said that he and his wife can no longer work and their entire family is suffering mentally from the death of Diren. 

"We are thinking of him every day and when we are in Turkey we go every day – we go praying to his grave – and here in Missoula we are praying every day," Celal said. 

On Saturday, the Dedes flew out of Missoula, returning home to their grieving daughters. They plan to stay in contact with the friends they made here, especially Diren's host parents, Kate Walker and Randy Smith. 

We come together as one family because we both lost a son, Gulcin added.

"He left some footprints behind here and they will take care of that," she said. "No one in Missoula will forget about him."

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