Go big or go home.
That’s how 25-year-old Blaine Whitworth, a Cass County native from Garden City, lived his life during his short time on earth.
Even at a young age, he believed in the motto.
Growing up, he was a multi-sport athlete. He was also a Boy Scout and active in his church youth group. He was popular in school, and a friend and do-gooder to many.
After graduating from Sherwood High School in 2005, Whitworth went to college at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. Once he completed his degree, Whitworth pursued a career as a safety adviser on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and Singapore.
But love for his college town eventually brought him back to the Midwest to chase a dream of working for himself.
In September 2011, he reopened a well-known bar in Warrensburg, Bodie’s. About five months later, Whitworth opened another restaurant and bar and named it Molly’s in honor of his grandmother.
“He was on top of the world,” said his mother, Diane Whitworth.
Then tragedy struck on Sept. 1, 2012. The young businessman was gunned down in front of his Warrensburg home, taking three shots to his back.
“It just didn’t make any sense,” Diane Whitworth said.
Just this month in a Cass County courtroom, a jury found 28-year-old Reginald Singletary guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Singletary, of Kansas City, had worked as a bouncer at Molly’s.
Early in the murder investigation, Singletary confessed to Warrensburg police that he killed Whitworth. He claimed that his roommate, a University of Central Missouri student from Saudi Arabia, had paid him to do it.
Senior international aviation student Ziyad Abid, 24, was charged alongside Singletary and spent 11 months in the Johnson County Jail.
The case received renewed attention when a judge twice refused to release Abid even after the Saudi government provided the $2 million in cash that Abid needed to post bond.
The judge said he was a flight risk or could be deported before trial.
Then, in August 2013, prosecutors dropped all charges against Abid because Singletary changed his story.
At his trial, Singletary testified that he didn't kill Whitworth, even though his roommate had wanted him slain.
He said that Abid was hanging around with gangster types, and that Singletary was afraid his ex-wife and their children would be harmed if he didn't commit the crime.
Now that the case is over, Whitworth’s relatives still don’t know why anyone would want Blaine dead.
“We’ve asked ourselves over and over, why,” Diane Whitworth said. “Blaine had given him a job.”
Despite the family’s grief, Diane Whitworth said she has chosen to not go down the path of anger.
“It gets you nowhere and it just eats you up,” she said.
Instead, family members are trying to focus their energies on keeping Whitworth’s memory alive and doing what would have made him happy.
Over the last 18 months, his parents have been diligent about making a difference in the communities their son enjoyed — both in Garden City and in Warrensburg.
Last week, the family received a plaque from the Garden City Ball Association for putting in lights at the city’s youth baseball field — where Whitworth played as a child and always visited when he returned home.
The field had never been lighted before, making it difficult for the growing athletic organization to squeeze in games during daylight hours.
All-State Electric and Neco Seed Farms donated their time to install the lights, which were purchased with money raised at the Blaine Whitworth Poker Tournament held at Eric’s Rockin C Bar and Grill in Garden City.
At the ceremony, Blaine’s dad, Barry Whitworth, threw the first pitch. Blaine’s nephew, Chancey Whitworth, had the opportunity to catch that pitch in what was his first ball game — under the new lights.
The Blaine Whitworth Foundation is also assisting the Warrensburg community.
Before his death, Whitworth was involved in the Warrensburg Main Street organization, Whiteman Air Force Base and local politics. His aim was to improve the city’s downtown.
With money from foundation fundraisers, the family has been working to provide scholarships for UCM students who are aspiring business people and entrepreneurs. Diane and Barry Whitworth have spoken to students in business classes at the university.
The foundation is also helping provide scholarships for UCM’s Entrepreneur or Bust Business Camp for young entrepreneurs in late June.
The camp is a week-long course for middle and high school students that covers the fundamentals of starting a business from the ground up. The Blaine Whitworth Fund will provide up to 20 scholarships, valued at $300, for students wishing to attend.