Marked by tragedy

Cherie Grubbs didn't flinch as the small red asterisk was tattooed onto the back of her left shoulder.

Lying face down on a tattoo table, she was calm, and when the last bit of run-off ink was wiped from her skin, she admired the quarter-sized symbol in the mirror with an earnest smile.

Grubbs, 55, a nurse in Ashland, is the mother of 23-year-old David Michael Grubbs, who was found murdered on the Central Ashland Bike Path Nov. 19.

She said she wasn't nervous before getting the tattoo in honor of her son, which she had placed beside another tattoo of a small red heart — her first, and only other tattoo.

"I'm pretty much numb to everything right now," she said, before lying down.

She said the heart has a significant meaning too, but that was private.

The asterisk tattoo, which 10 friends and family members of Grubbs' have acquired since his death, is a symbol of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, an American rock-funk band.

"They were his favorite band," said Garrison Mau, who was David Grubbs' best friend. "We were originally supposed to get that same tattoo together."

Mau was short on cash then, over a year ago, so Grubbs went ahead with the tattoo.

"Of course, David, being the guy he was, offered to pay for it, but I didn't want him to have to do that," Mau said.

Kay Boak, a tattoo artist at Southside Tattoo in Ashland, remembers giving Grubbs that tattoo.

It was about the size of a grapefruit, on the bicep of his right arm.

"I didn't think, 'I should remember this guy,' when he was in here," she said, "but I do, because I can remember him being very kind."

Boak has since finished 10 of the same-style tattoos in memory of Grubbs, and has two other people scheduled to get the asterisk today.

The first person to get the tattoo in honor of Grubbs was Mau, on Monday.

"It was something we were going to do together and I wanted to live up to that," he said.

They met at Ashland High School when Mau was a sophomore and Grubbs was a freshman. Through music, video games and conversation, the two formed a lasting friendship. Mau also works at the Ashland Shop'n Kart, where Grubbs worked.

A talented musician, Grubbs taught Mau how to play bass.

"And I had picked up the drums, so we jammed together a lot," Mau said.

Cherie Grubbs said she loved to listen to her son play bass.

"He started on violin, but he was so tall and had such long fingers; some of his instructors suggested that he try the bass."

Her son was about 10 then, she said. "Music was his passion."

"He was tall," said Mau, who had one of Grubbs' nicknames tattooed beneath the red asterisk on his right arm, which is a little smaller than his best friend's was.

"We called him 'Length man,'" said Mau, "because, when we met him, we were all about half his size."

"He was still hulking over us for a while after that, so the name just kind of stuck."

Cherie Grubbs said her son wasn't the type of guy who worried about looking cool with trendy clothes, or piercings, or tattoos. His favorite band's symbol was his only tattoo.

"So, for him to go out and get something like this meant something," she said. "It just kind of symbolizes what he was all about."

Rachell Grubbs, David's 29-year-old sister, of Los Angeles, also got the tattoo with her mom on Thursday.

"It's more than just a tattoo," she said, it being her first one. "I can't imagine that I'll ever get another."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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