A saddened yet defiant community came to bury James S. "Jay" Bias yesterday.
There were tears as well as shouts: "Enough is enough!" The sweet, mournful songs became a clarion call to change. And the prayers gave way to a pledge, as about 400 young men and women in the crowd of 3,500 pressed toward the coffin at the altar and the outstretched arms of James and Lonise Bias. They vowed that they would not let what happened to Bias happen to them.
"This is why Jay died," the Rev. John A. Cherry told Bias's parents, "so that others might live."
Yesterday's funeral at Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills closes a wrenching week for an area torn by violence and a family struck twice in four years. Bias's older brother, Len, died in 1986 after collapsing from ingesting cocaine during a celebration of his signing a contract to play professional basketball. His death helped focus the nation's attention on the danger of drug use.
The death of the younger brother, from gunshot wounds inflicted after a brief argument at a Prince George's County shopping mall on Tuesday, also appeared to pull together a community. Jay Bias, also an exceptional athlete, was 20.
For three hours, the mourners came, many wearing "Stop the Killing" buttons or anti-gun stickers, some carrying babies or with young children. They filed past the bronze coffin to view the young face, the neat gray suit and red and black paisley tie. The Bias family filled 10 rows. To their right sat local, state and federal dignitaries.
Also in the predominantly black crowd of people from across the Washington area were some wearing work uniforms and others in solemn black suits and dresses. Many were young and many were friends of Bias's from Northwestern High School or from his Landover neighborhood. Many cried and sang along with the choir, some standing, as did Lonise Bias, arms raised as they swayed to the music.
At 1 p.m., the coffin was closed. Then this prayer:
"I pray for the community," the Rev. Steven Wright said. "I pray that you will wake us up, that you will shake us up. The day of the spectator is over. Deliver us from the forces of destruction that would so easily spill the blood of our brothers. Father, touch us as a people, wake us up as a people. This is our cry."
Bias died of gunshot wounds shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday at Leland Memorial Hospital. Jerry Samuel Tyler, 24, of Temple Hills, has been charged with first-degree murder. He remains at the Prince George's County detention center while his family completes the paperwork to free him on a $50,000 bond.
The earliest Tyler is likely to be freed is tomorrow, when detention center workers can install monitoring equipment in Tyler's home, police officials said.
Police allege that Tyler saw Bias talking to Tyler's wife at a jewlery store at Prince George's Plaza and accused him of flirting; Bias was there to pick up an order. As Bias left the mall in a red Toyota 4Runner with friends, Tyler allegedly rode up beside him and shot into the car. Bias, who was riding in the front passenger seat, was shot in the back.
At his funeral, Cherry raised the question of who killed Jay Bias.
"In order to really know, we need to get past who pulled the trigger," Cherry said. "All of us must take a part of the blame. Healthy people don't kill healthy people."
Since his son's death, James Bias has begun a crusade against gun violence. On Friday, he went to Capitol Hill to testify before a panel sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence to push for new gun-control laws. Yesterday, members of that coalition attended the Bias funeral.
"Mr. Bias came out to support us. We are here obviously to support him," said Josh Horwitz, of the gun-control group. "With everything that has been going on, it crystallizes the fact that we must do something."