Amber Buckner was loved.
She was quirky, intelligent, funny, and way too generous. She loved cooking, karaoke, and heavy metal. She was troubled and struggling and trying to overcome.
Lord, was she trying. She’d been in rehab for a drug dependency. She’d just found a nice place to live, with people who understood her. Always happiest in a kitchen, she hoped to return to restaurant work. She wanted to get back her baby girl, who had been taken into foster care.
Maybe, this time, she would have made it. But the glimmers of light gave way to darkness. Buckner, 40, was murdered in mid-December. Police say she was killed by Victor Carter, who also lived at the Stoughton home where she had found refuge, and was likely her boyfriend.
Buckner, in death, joined a long, sad line. She was, it appears, one of at least 27 people murdered in incidents of domestic violence last year in Massachusetts.
“She had a horrible struggle, but I don’t want people to focus on that, because that’s not who she was,” said Buckner’s mother, Linda Malone. “She wasn’t just another story in the paper. She was all I had left.”
Every death opens chasms in other lives. Violent death piles horror atop the loss. And complicated lives make for complicated deaths.
Amber’s life was complicated, so much has yet to be resolved in the wake of her death. Buckner’s mother and father, who divorced when she was little and blame each other for their daughter’s struggles, are in a pitched legal battle neither can afford over what happens to her remains. A month after her murder, Amber’s former roommates are still living with a gruesome crime scene they cannot afford to have cleaned up.
After spending most of her childhood away from her father, Robert Buckner, Amber went to live with him in Oklahoma for a couple of years when she was about 18. He recalls her stepping off the plane with a bass guitar, which was his instrument, too.
“It was like getting to know somebody you have already known your whole life,” said Buckner, who lives in Heavener. He can’t imagine why anybody would want to hurt her: “She was beautiful and intelligent and had that way about her that people liked.”
She would give everything to those she cared about, her mother said. When Amber was 16, Malone was being treated for breast cancer and her daughter never left her side. When her aunt was injured in an accident, Amber moved in to take care of her.
“She had a disease, and she struggled with it, but it didn’t change the fact that she was an amazing person,” her mother said.
Malone knew Amber had lost her job at Legal Seafoods shortly before her death, and that she was homeless after being asked to leave her cousin’s house, but she had never heard of Victor Carter until his arrest. It appears her daughter hadn’t known him very long.
Bianca, the woman who owned the house where Amber and Carter both lived when she was killed, isn’t sure if the pair were a couple. Carter moved in first, said Bianca, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy, then introduced her to Amber, who needed a place to stay. Bianca had a spare room, so Amber moved in in November. The two women had many long conversations in the weeks after Amber moved in, sharing their histories, and hopes.
“She was super intelligent,” Bianca recalled. “She seemed to feel safe, where she hadn’t in a long time.”
In early December, however, Carter began behaving erratically. Amber told Bianca he was off his meds, and that she was trying to help him. After he punched Amber in the head without warning, Bianca and her boyfriend asked Carter to find somewhere else to live. Now she wonders if that sent him over the edge.
“He was upset we chose her over him,” Bianca said.
On the morning of Dec. 13, Bianca and her boyfriend were looking for Carter — who slept in a detached rec room on the property — when they discovered Amber’s body. Carter had fled, and was arrested a few days later, at the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. He will be arraigned on murder charges on Tuesday in Stoughton District Court.
It’s hard to be in the house now, where there is “an echoing silence,” and she and her boyfriend are afraid to be alone, Bianca said. They can’t stop seeing the scene they came upon in the rec room. Since they both recently lost their jobs, they cannot afford to have the room where Amber was killed cleaned (The state has funds to help with this, but it will take a while to get them, and the couple is daunted by the process).
While they live with the aftermath of her murder, Amber lies in a morgue as her parents resolve their legal dispute over her final resting place. Her father says Amber would want to be buried with his family in Texas. Her mother says Amber wished to be cremated here.
Each of them is in a world of pain.
“The sadness is starting to sink in,” Robert Buckner said. “The reality of my daughter never calling me, and [never] hearing her voice again.”
On New Year’s Eve, Linda Malone’s phone rang at midnight, as it has every year, no matter how rocky her relationship with her daughter.
“Amber?” she answered. But it was a niece who knew Amber’s annual tradition, calling to make sure Malone was OK. She is not OK. She’s angry at her ex-husband and enraged at Victor Carter. She wants to make sure the man police say killed her daughter sees her face in courtroom on Tuesday, when he will first face the charges against him.
“Amber would be the first one to say you have to forgive or you don’t get blessings,” she said. “I can’t.”
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.