By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008
A Laurel minister told mourners for Ronnie L. White yesterday that they all bore some responsibility for the destructive road his life took and urged his friends to turn their lives around so they would not follow him to an early death.
Speaking before 400 loved ones, the Rev. G. Randolph Gurley said the 19-year-old did not suddenly decide to go astray the day he allegedly killed a Prince George's County police officer. Less than 36 hours after White was brought to the county jail on first-degree murder charges, he was found dead in his cell of apparent strangulation.
"When did it all start? Who all has a part in this tragedy?" Gurley asked, gazing intently into the eyes of several people in the pews before him. "We all know someone took his life, but it goes beyond that. We know that Ronnie didn't wake up that day and say, 'Today I'll participate in some activity that will result in someone's life being lost and later lead to the loss of my life.' His family, his friends, the school system, certainly the faith community . . . maybe we all have a part in this."
White's funeral at Tabernacle Church in Laurel began with separate viewings for the family and public. Those gathered were mostly young men and women, many of whom wept as they filed past the black and chrome coffin where White lay dressed in black. The saddest moment came when White's mother, Angie, in a black suit and dark glasses, said goodbye to the oldest of her four sons before his coffin was closed. As she leaned over to give him a final kiss, sobs racked her tiny frame.
"Ronnie, I love you!" one young woman yelled as Angie White doubled over in grief.
"He's not supposed to be gone!" another moaned.
There were more T-shirts and skullcaps than suits and ties. Many of the young women wore tank tops and sundresses that showed off tattooed backs and arms. Dozens wore shirts adorned with pictures and messages such as "In Memory of Ronnie L. White" and "R.I.P. Ronnie White," including the white-gloved pallbearers. One young woman wore a shirt that said simply, "I need you, Boo."
Gurley told the young people to "wear the T-shirts in love" for White, but to remember that they represented death. "How long will it be until your face will be on one of these T-shirts?" he asked, drawing some loud sobs.
White was arrested June 27 in connection with the killing of Cpl. Richard S. Findley, who was run over by a truck. Authorities continue to investigate the deaths of Findley and White, whose death has been ruled a homicide. White had previously been charged in a number of crimes, including drug possession, theft, assault and armed robbery.
Gurley, who has been a pastor for 30 years, was unabashed in his anger at losing another member of his flock. White's funeral was the sixth for a young person at the church in the past decade, he said. The first five died of gunshot wounds. An autopsy showed that White died of asphyxiation after he was choked.
"I wish I could speak of a long and prosperous life, how he had lived life to the fullest, of his wife and children . . . and how finally . . . he had succumbed to a death of natural causes," Gurley said. "Unfortunately, that is not the case."
Gurley referred to a gang that police believe White belonged to. A candlelight vigil scheduled for Wednesday evening was canceled because of concerns that trouble might erupt. County police were called to the scene of a verbal altercation involving about 15 of White's relatives and possible friends late Wednesday near a site close to the church that had been cited for a vigil on the MySpace social networking site, according to police spokesman Henry Tippett.
"There was a lot of yelling, and someone called the police," Tippett said, adding that officers remained at the scene until the group was calm, and no charges were filed.
The pastor urged those at White's funeral to resist the impulse to lash out.
"This is not the time to threaten or be threatened," Gurley said. God, he said, would ensure that justice is done.
"Pour out a little Hennessy [cognac], drink some 40s, smoke a bag of weed, hit a dipper or two if you want to . . . but that won't bring him back," he said. "Get as drunk or as high as you want and do it in his honor if you want to, but that will not bring him back."
Gurley then challenged the mourners to use White's death as motivation to improve their own lives.
"Come in my life today," Gurley prayed on behalf of the hundreds who flocked to the altar at his invitation to give their lives to Christ. "Come into my heart. Change me. Save me. Let me be blessed."
After the service, Edward Butler, 17, and Kevin Merrick, 19, both close friends of White's who live in Laurel, said they accepted Gurley's invitation because they fear for their lives.
"You just never know who dislikes you or what is going to happen," Merrick said.
"Everybody around you can be harmful," said Butler, who also lost his 17-year-old cousin, Kenyatta Boodram, in a District Heights killing last month. "You just get tired of it."
Kim Butler said she was glad that White's death had spurred her son to think about his safety.
"I pray every night for God to send the angels down wherever he is to keep him protected and to bring him back in the house safe," she said. "There are so many things out here that can happen to these young people. They need all the help they can get to stay safe."
Staff writer Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.