They walked into Maple Springs Baptist Church by twos, in clusters, holding hands, until the church was overflowing with mourners who had come to pay final tribute to Rico Leroy Marshall.
The funeral yesterday in Capitol Heights for the Forestville football star had a simple theme. "This sacrificial death is going to make a difference in the behavior of our teen-agers," said the Rev. Chester A. McDonald Sr.
"If you ignore this message, you have an eternal problem," McDonald told about 500 mourners. "If you love him so much and you're crying over him so much and you're falling out over him so much, then walk in Jesus and you'll see him again."
Forestville High School Principal Paul Lewis implored the dozens of students from the school to gain strength from one another to fight the war against drugs.
"God is delivering us a powerful message. It is up to each and every one of us to learn the message," he said. "You must change. I must change. We must change . . . . We must take this tragedy and act . . . . We all must fight this insidious cancer that prevails in our society."
Marshall was buried at National Harmony Memorial Park in Landover after soaring praise for the way he lived and lingering questions about the way he died.
Even while hundreds mourned Marshall, one minister called for State's Attorney Alex Williams to investigate the 18-year-old's encounter with Prince George's County police early Saturday about 2 1/2 hours before he died of a cocaine overdose.
"Rico Marshall was a good friend of my son's. I watched them grow up," the Rev. Horrace Hillsman said. "He was a fine man. Tell that to the world. We know what we've read in the media. We know the source and we know the history of the source.
"I don't believe that young man took those drugs," Hillsman said. There were nods and murmurs of agreement throughout the overflowing congregation. "I plan to ask the state's attorney to look into that."
Williams could not be reached yesterday.
Police said Marshall ran from two officers who approached him early Saturday while he was standing and talking to the occupants of a car in the 1400 block of Nova Avenue, five blocks from the church where funeral services were held yesterday. Marshall ran into two other officers, police said, and sometime during that run, he swallowed six chunks of crack, a powerful cocaine derivative often smoked in a pipe.
Police said Marshall was arrested at the same location Dec. 22 and charged with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. A juvenile at the time, he was released to his mother's custody, police said. His father, Leroy Marshall, has denied the police account.
Microscopic examination of Rico Marshall's heart tissue for evidence of previous drug use will be conducted early next week, according to Dr. Charles Kokes, acting deputy chief Maryland medical examiner.
State medical examiner John E. Smialek said this week that initial results show that Marshall died of cocaine intoxication.
Some of Marshall's friends remained unconvinced yesterday that the star football player was involved in drugs.
"I don't think drugs were a part of his life. I know drugs were not a part of his life," Valleo Simmons, one of Marshall's football teammates, said as he walked into the church.
"I still think there's something to it," he said, adding that he believes others may have forced Marshall to swallow the crack. Simmons, 18, declined to explain why he thinks that.
That Rico Marshall, poised to play football for the University of South Carolina next fall, was laid to rest at the height of his accomplishments was a poignant reminder to a community under siege that another young life had been snuffed out by cocaine.
Marshall's father told the mourners that he was prompted to stand after hearing a young friend sing "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday."
"I sat there while Anji was singing and Rico came to me and said, 'Dad, I want you to say something,' " he said. "Rico was proud