She dropped by her family and friends’ homes, unannounced, sometimes multiple times in the same day.
There was leftover pasta to eat, milk in the fridge and nieces, nephews, sisters and cousins with whom to sing and dance.
She always left a trail of belongings behind her. Clothes, her purse, whatever.
Retrieving them gave Kylie Duster another reason to come back.
For her family, in the unreality that surrounds Kylie’s death, it still feels like she might. Kylie is about to stroll through a back door, in need of a phone charger and a big hug.
“It’s hard for me to get in a car because I liked to call her,” said her mother, Liz Allen. “The first day I went back to work, I picked up my phone to call her.
Kylie died on July 28 at the age of 20. Police discovered her body inside a closet in her Dubuque apartment. Law enforcement is investigating the case, but has not announced whether they consider it a homicide.
“It’s a tough situation because we don’t have someone who is locked up and charged with murder,” said family friend Susan Whitcher.
“We’ll get it,” Liz said. “I have faith.”
Kylie’s family wants to remember her fearless and unapologetic life, not her absence.
She bubbled with zest and lightened a room with her laughter.
Kylie was born Aug. 21, 2000, in Dubuque, to Kevin Duster and Liz Allen.
She grew up in Millville with her older brothers Gage and Hunter. They explored the hills outdoors, jumped on their trampoline and rode bikes.
When Kylie was about 8 years old, she and Hunter decided to pedal to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A patrol officer spotted them along U.S. 52, and Liz soon received a call at work that she needed to pick up her kids.
Kylie and Hunter once plotted to tunnel through the walls inside their bedroom closets, opening a secret passage. The project was only half-complete before they were caught.
Kylie attended school at Clayton Ridge in Guttenberg.
When she was 10, her parents separated. She remained in Millville with Kevin, and Liz moved to Dubuque.
Kylie wrote in an essay she composed for a class that she struggled with their subsequent divorce.
“I wish my parents could still be together, but they will always be there for me,” she said.
In Millville, Kevin established three rules: do well in school, no pregnancies and remain out of trouble with the law. As Kevin cooked dinner, Kylie completed her homework at the kitchen table.
“He values my education even though I want to give up sometimes, and he still pushes me to do better,” she wrote.
In 2015, Kylie moved to Dubuque and transferred to Senior High School and, later, the Alternative Learning Center at the Alta Vista Campus. She didn’t complete school at that time, which she regretted.
Before her death, she was just a few tests shy of completing her high school equivalency diploma.
Kylie worked at the Nordstrom Distribution Center, processing shoes. She had considered a career in orthodontics, but also was drawn to veterinary medicine.
Kylie loved her two cats, Priscilla and Savage. If she had lived on a farm, she would have filled it with animals.
Kylie wanted to start a family.
She loved kids and never declined a chance for a round of “Ring around the Rosie” at her aunt, Jessica Thibadeau’s, day care or a video game match with Susan’s children.
“She gave as much love as she received,” Susan said. “She was constantly letting people know.”
Susan kept an extra gallon of milk on hand, which Kylie could down in one sitting. Kylie often started her day carrying a jug inside her BMW.
Kylie only drank whole milk, but if she had her way, it would always be fresh from a cow’s udder.
Kylie liked to wear long acrylic nails, preferably pink. She would chop wood or change her oil without breaking them. On her arm, she had the name of her best friend, Emma Hefel, tattooed. Emma died in 2017 in a car crash. The loss shook Kylie, her family said.
For Kylie’s 21st birthday, her golden birthday, Susan had planned a trip to Las Vegas.
“She was going to party it up in Vegas on a Saturday night,” Susan said.
Susan purchased a life-size cardboard replica of Kylie and took her to the destinations they had planned to visit: the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Area 51, Caesar’s Palace and Cirque du Soleil.
Kylie liked attending Chicago Bears football games, not because she cared for sports, but because she was energized by the fans. Kylie chatted with strangers.
“Oh, girl, I like your shirt!” she might say, or, “Your hair’s so cute!”
Kylie’s young cousins, nieces and nephews don’t understand where she has gone. Her family tells them she is still here.
Kylie has become their guardian angel.