Near the end of yesterday's funeral for 15-year-old Myesha Lowe, the Rev. Rudolph Stewart III urged all the children and teenagers in the church to approach the pulpit and surround the slain girl's pink coffin.
Then, Stewart and other adults in the church prayed for the youths to stay out of trouble.
"God, protect them, so that never again will we lose one to tragedy," Stewart said, capping an emotional service for a teenager who was slain during a drive-by shooting last week in Northeast Washington.
Nearly every seat was taken in Shiloh Baptist Church, as several hundred people gathered to pay their respects to a girl who wrote poetry and dreamed of going to college, becoming a lawyer and then a judge.
Dabbing tears with tissues and hugging each other for comfort, Myesha's mother, Francine Lowe, and close relatives crowded into the first several pews of the church. Other pews were filled with teenagers and parents seeking comfort on each other's shoulders.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Del. Eleanor Homes Norton (D-D.C.) addressed the several hundred mourners, urging parents and other adults to take more responsibility for ending violence on their streets.
"Myesha was Francine's child, to the extent that she gave birth to her," Norton said. "Myesha was my child. Myesha was your child. . . . If you feel what Francine feels, then maybe we can gather what it takes to stop this killing."
Myesha was in a car with two women when at least two young men opened fire from a passing vehicle about 11:45 p.m. July 24. She died the next day.
Police have arrested Joshua Ross, 20, on first-degree murder charges in the shooting and said they are continuing to hunt for other suspects. They blamed a long-running feud between two neighborhoods for leading to the outbreak of gunfire.
Myesha was the 17th juvenile to be killed in the District this year, five more than in all of 2003.
Norton and Williams spoke of the recent terrorism scares that have gripped Washington, forcing police to beef up security around the World Bank and IMF headquarters.
They said they felt the problem of juvenile violence in the District was just as dangerous as terrorists plotting to bomb downtown buildings.
"I have to tell you that I am not afraid of the terrorists," Norton said. "But I am afraid to go into the neighborhood where Myesha was shot."
Williams said that the community needed to come together to stop further bloodshed.
"All of us are mothers and fathers of this child," he said. "All of us have to step up and play a role."
Other speakers told personal stories about Myesha, who was participating in an enrichment program geared toward helping her get into college. The teenager had recently graduated from Hine Junior High School.
"She wanted to improve her life and make a difference in the world," said Attrue Johnson, who had recently worked with Myesha as director of the Trinity College Upward Bound Program.
Wellington Wilder, vice principal at Myesha's junior high school, spoke about how Myesha and one of her sisters were always the first students to arrive for class.
Then, Wilder read a poem written by Myesha when she was in fifth grade.
"If only I had the talent to sing/I would sing to convince people/To give up guns/To stop stealing/To stop fighting. I would sing to help them set the example."