Man found dead in Raleigh was drum major for popular Helping Hand Mission band

For eight years, Keonte Gause waved his baton for the Helping Hand Mission Band, a strutting drum major with knee-high steps and a foot-tall hat — a show-stopper at any Raleigh parade.

Whether Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day, Gause drew the loudest applause on Fayetteville Street, dancing in a cape and a sash to a thundering of bass drums. When he passed, the sidewalks rang with applause. This week, the tributes have turned somber.

Gause, nicknamed “Duke,” was found dead Sunday in a vehicle outside the Denny’s on Wake Forest Road. Raleigh police have disclosed few details, including how Gause died. A 19-year-old Durham man has been charged with murder.

But eulogies for the 34-year-old Gause have started pouring in, especially in his native Wilmington, where friends have created a T-shirt in his memory, showing Duke in full swagger.

“He was the most exciting person who just got everybody boosted up,” said Sylvia Wiggins, the mission’s executive director. “He would tell me, ‘If I’m going to show up, I’m going to show up.”

Gause had attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, Wiggins said, but he recently started driving a dump truck for a living, which he enjoyed. He drove a truck of his own and would offer it to deliver meals and heaters on snowy days in Raleigh.

“He was about as wild as I am, driving on the ice,” Wiggins said. “He was a daredevil.”

In recent weeks, she said, Gause had been saving money to buy a car. He had rented an apartment in Durham but had yet to buy furniture. He had been showing cash around Friday, proud of his savings, and Wiggins warned him against it.

Gause’s death was Raleigh’s eighth homicide of the year. On Sunday, police released three blurry photos and asked for help identifying two people it called witnesses in the case.

The Raleigh Police Department is requesting the public’s assistance in identifying two people a press release labeled as witnesses in the case. Raleigh Police Department

Anyone who may have information in the case is asked to call Raleigh CrimeStoppers at 919-834-HELP or go to raleighcrimestoppers.org. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for anonymous tips that help solve cases.

His friends, meanwhile, will march in his memory on Saturday, May 11, in Wilmington.

“He was the piece of the puzzle that made it fit,” Wiggins said. “Such a beautiful person.”

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.