Brenda Roessler spent much of Tuesday scrolling through memories friends and family were posting on Facebook of a man who by blood was her cousin, but by tragedy became her brother.
"Even to last night at midnight, I thought I was going to wake up today and this wasn't true," Roessler said.
The man she calls her brother, 26-year-old Dustin Dilks, was hit by vehicles in the right lane of the eastbound Beltline around 2:15 a.m. Monday.
Police are still investigating how he ended up on the road, where he was seen holding up his hands.
Dilks is described by those who knew him as kind, funny and positive, despite overcoming deep sadness in his own life 12 years ago.
Dilks' parents, Lisa and Terry Dilks, were killed in their home in Urbandale, Iowa, in 2004. Dustin was 14 and at a friend's house at the time of the murders. He moved to Middleton to live with his aunt, Debbie Lovelace, and was raised in Wisconsin. He later testified at the 2008 trial of the man who killed his parents. His family said growing up through that ordeal made him cherish each day.
"When his parents died, I told myself from that point on I would never take anybody I loved for granted," Roessler said. "The best thing I have that comforts me is the last thing I said when I saw him. I gave him a hug and I told him I loved him and he said he loved me. And he did that with all of us. He never let us walk away without knowing that he loved us."
Roessler said Dilks was a role model to her children, and always a shoulder for her to cry on.
"He just made the world a better place," Roessler said. "If my children turn out to be half the human being that he was, I will be blessed."
Making things even more painful for Lovelace and her other daughter, Christina Bishop, is that the family got the news of the crash while they were out of state on vacation.
"It's difficult," Lovelace told News 3 by phone. "I've been through a lot of difficult things. Twelve years ago was extremely difficult. Eight years ago during the trial was difficult, and this probably tops it, because he was my son."
Family members are now waiting for answers as to why Dilks was on the Beltline that morning and why he may have been flagging down help. They're taking solace that while they've lost him, he has been reunited.
"The only comfort that I have is that his parents were waiting for him with open arms," Roessler said. "He missed his parents dearly and he's with them now."
Dilks worked at the Flying Hound Alehouse in Fitchburg. Jameson Menz, the general manager and a childhood friend of Dilks, said he considered him a brother and was proud of how he'd "worked to earn anything he ever had."
Funeral arrangements are currently pending, but the funeral will likely be in Madison.