By Joe Holden

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This time of year families are celebrating a big milestone in the lives of their children, one of those being graduation. A local mother didn’t get that chance.

She showed up at graduation, holding a photo instead, as her son’s class paid tribute to him. She’s hoping CBS3 Mysteries can help generate leads to find a killer.

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Illustrating the toll of Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis is a mom carrying a cardboard cutout of her son into his high school graduation.

“Just know that he could have had a real bright future, he really could have,” Brittany Brunson said.

Brunson holds close the memories of her son Kahlief Myrick. She invited CBS3 Mysteries as her guests to be there as South Philadelphia High School honored the late 16-year-old.

At commencement, Kahlief wasn’t forgotten. The school community paid him tribute.

“It’s beautiful. It was a beautiful feeling. I feel overwhelmed a little bit,” Brunson said. “But most of all, I feel so, so proud for him. To be able to stand in his place to accept it. For him to be acknowledged, I feel overwhelmed, but I absolutely feel very proud.”

The stark, grim reality is that parents show up at special moments like high school graduations in place of their late children. They say it is a moment in our city’s history that should not be.

CBS3 Mysteries profiled the murder case of Kahlief Myrick in early May.

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Kahlief was inside a Southwest Philadelphia 7-Eleven very early on the morning of Feb. 18, 2021. Investigators say he had words with a man named Donald Whitingham.

Police say Whitingham waited for Kahlief outside the store, where he fatally shot him in cold blood.

Whitingham has been on the run since.

The pomp and circumstance are now difficult.

“The moment was when the kids were walking in and seeing their hats decorated,” Brunson said. “Kahlief lived for something to shine. He lived to be any type of star. If he could’ve been here and you all had cameras, this was right up his alley.”

Brunson draws strength from the thoughts of her son Kahlief.

“There are so many thoughts about what it would be like moving forward,” she said.”What would he have done? What would have took place after he graduated? All of it, it’s a hurtful feeling. I just try my best to think about — I try to embrace the good things. You know, I just try my best every single day.”

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If you have information on the whereabouts of Whitingham, call Philadelphia Police at 215-686-TIPS.