At Funeral for Slain Teen, Fenty And Others Pledge to Aid Youths

Loretta Hall mourns her son DeOnt¿ Rawlings, 14, during his funeral at First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Loretta Hall mourns her son DeOnt¿ Rawlings, 14, during his funeral at First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Keith L. Alexander and Robert Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Relatives and classmates of 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings joined District politicians yesterday in calling for aggressive new youth services in the city as mourners gathered for the teenager's funeral 12 days after he was shot by an off-duty D.C. police officer.

Friends, neighbors, relatives and others lined up nearly two hours early to attend the funeral at First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church in Northwest Washington.

"Hold your kids every night, because you don't know what could happen to them," the teenager's father, Charles Rawlings, told the hundreds of mourners in the sanctuary. DeOnte was the youngest of his 16 children. Rawlings has said that the boy recently had been difficult to control and that he had sought help from social workers and school officials.

More than 700 people filled the church's pews, balcony and downstairs overflow room. In a white coffin, DeOnte was dressed in a white-collared shirt and bluejeans with a Batman belt buckle. His Ballou Senior High School identification card hung on the buckle. Black sunglasses were propped on his head.

"DeOnte was loved by many," his brother Charles Rawlings III said as mourners stood in line for a viewing. "They took the wrong one."

Several key questions remain unanswered about the shooting, which is under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI.

D.C. police said DeOnte was shot in the head on Atlantic Street SE, about a half-mile from his home. They said off-duty officers James Haskel and Anthony Clay, both out of uniform, were in Haskel's sport-utility vehicle looking for a minibike that Haskel thought had been stolen from his home, a gated townhouse community near where DeOnte lived.

Police say that the officers found DeOnte on the bike and called to him and that DeOnte opened fire. The men did not have a chance to identify themselves as officers, according to police. A chase followed and eventually ended with Haskel shooting DeOnte. The gun that DeOnte allegedly used has not been found. Family members say they don't believe DeOnte had a gun.

Many of the young people at yesterday's service, including some family members, wore T-shirts bearing pictures of DeOnte. Illustrating the controversy surrounding the shooting, some of the shirts bore messages such as "The police did it." Other T-shirts bore profane references to the police.

The Rev. Raymond Bell, pastor of the church, urged mourners to remain calm and let authorities complete their investigation. "God is the avenger of all wrongs," he said. "You don't need to take vengeance into your hands."

DeOnte's death has fueled tensions in parts of the city as some community leaders talk about a growing mistrust of police. Meanwhile, several police officials were angry that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) agreed to pay for DeOnte's funeral.

Fenty promised mourners that DeOnte's death would be an impetus to creating more job opportunities for young people in the city.

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