In a better world, 17-year-old James Richardson might still be the star running back at Ballou Senior High School, widening the distance between himself and the neighborhood rivalries that polluted his life. In a better world, 14-year-old Jahkema Princess Hansen might have achieved her dream -- to move out of the drug-ridden housing complex that was her home.
Instead, the two youths were remembered yesterday in funeral services that unfolded at the same noon hour in churches seven miles apart -- in a city shaken by the continued loss of its children to street violence.
Friends and relatives of Princess Hansen, including her mother, Judyann Hansen at far right, prepare to release balloons in Princess's honor after her funeral.
(Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
In death, James Richardson and Princess Hansen have become emblems of a problem so pervasive and disturbing that city and school officials, police and parents agree it no longer can be ignored. Princess was shot to death Jan. 23, days after police said she had witnessed another slaying. James was shot to death Monday at school by another student. In the nation's capital, where these events have become all too commonplace, yesterday's round of mourning seemed a sad new low.
"It has gotten to the point where we're going from one service to the next," said Elfreda W. Massie, interim superintendent of the D.C. schools, as she left Princess's wake to attend James's funeral. "It's frustrating that we don't have a silver bullet that could just fix all this. If I could stop it, I certainly would."
At each of the funerals, attended by overflowing crowds, the youth of the victims was on heart-wrenching display. James lay in his casket at Paramount Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, dressed in his Number 8 blue-and-gold football jersey. Friends had added photographs of happier times, jewelry, a pair of sunglasses. James's father placed an NFL cap inside, a symbol of the dream the youth had of playing pro football someday. Throughout the service, young women, classmates of J-Rock, as he was known in school, wailed in grief.
During one emotional moment, Ballou's assistant football coach presented a framed "8" jersey to James's parents and promised that the number would never be used again.
At Holy Christian Missionary Baptist Church for All People in Northeast Washington, Princess's friends and many people who knew the girl only through news reports of her death filed slowly by the white casket. Ushers in nurse's white stood in attendance, holding boxes of tissue. Four weeping girls consoled each other -- "She would want us to be strong," said one -- as they looked down at Princess, who was dressed in a white gown and held a red rose. A picture of an angel decorated the inside satin cover of the coffin.
"I'm just tired of all this killing. I'm tired of it," said Angie Bonds, 42, an usher at Holy Christian. "I have done so many funerals -- I'm tired of seeing these kids laying up in their caskets."
The Rev. Stephen E. Young Sr., pastor of Holy Christian, said that over the past two years, his church has lost "more than 100 black men and women" to homicides. James and Princess are among 24 people who have been slain in the city this year, in a climate of increasing gun violence -- and more strident calls for solutions to the problem.
At both funerals, speakers carefully spread the blame, targeting youth, parents, the schools and the community as responsible for a solution.
"No one person is to blame, but everyone is responsible," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), speaking at James's funeral after paying his respects to the Hansen family. "If you're African American, you know what it's like to have joy and jubilation in your family and the pain of death in your family. Everyone knows what it's like to feel this pain and suffering.
"If we're going to be Christian, we have to get beyond liking one another to loving one another," he said. ". . . You've got to understand from the scriptures of Matthew that you may not want to take me on a voyage in a cruise to the Caribbean. All right, that's fine, but you better love and recognize that we're on the ship together."
Police say that the shooting of James Richardson apparently stemmed from a long-standing feud between two groups of students from Barry Farm Dwellings and Condon Terrace, two public housing communities in Southeast Washington. James, part of the Condon Terrace group, allegedly had been carrying messages back and forth between the two groups, according to Bridget T. Miller, head of the Youth Gang Task Force in the D.C. schools.
Princess, who lived in the Sursum Corda housing complex in Northwest Washington and was a seventh-grader at Shaw Junior High School, apparently had tried to make a deal to remain silent about a murder case with the alleged gunman, law enforcement officials said.