The South Side native's August shooting death by an undercover cop left behind a grieving community and unanswered questions

When Michelle Dalton’s mother died on July 8, she had to break the news to her three daughters that their grandmother was gone. But she couldn’t find her youngest daughter, Donna.

Michelle and her husband, Michael, raised their daughters on Columbus’ South Side. Lately, though, Donna had been spending more and more time on the West Side, and they worried about her. She was becoming harder and harder to track down.

For the past few years, things had been going downhill for 23-year-old Donna. At first, after graduating from charter school Focus Learning Academy in 2012, her partying appeared relatively harmless — drinking and late-night gatherings on Southwood Avenue while Michelle and Michael, a long-haul truck driver, were on the road. In 2014, at age 19, she married Christopher Castleberry, the father of one of her daughters. Friends and family say the marriage ended almost as soon as it began, despite the lack of an official divorce. (For this story, Alive has chosen to use the surname by which Donna self-identified and was commonly known, Dalton, rather than her legal surname, Castleberry.)

Another love interest — a man fresh out of prison and 10 years her senior — became the first domino that put Donna on a new, troubling path. “He introduced her to heroin, and that’s when life changed,” Michelle said.

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