Nearly 50 schoolchildren joined the crowd of mourners at a Northeast Washington church yesterday to say goodbye to their friend, a 13-year-old lost to gun violence.
The service for Michael Swann, who lay in a baby blue coffin at the front of New Samaritan Baptist Church, served as a remembrance for the boy nicknamed Jughead who liked to play basketball and make people laugh. But it also served as a lesson for the youths who attended.
"I want to see everybody under 16 stand up," Bishop Michael V. Kelsey Sr. said during the eulogy. "Somebody put your hands up and thank God. You have a future. You can go anywhere you want to go and do anything you set your mind to. I'm glad you're here."
Michael, a seventh-grader at Johnson Junior High School in Southeast Washington, was fatally shot Monday morning at a friend's Southeast apartment. Police said it appears he was accidentally hit by a bullet fired by Pernell P. Wood, 20, who also was in the apartment. Wood has been charged with second-degree murder.
Michael, who skipped school that day, was the 21st juvenile killed in the District this year and the 16th to die from gunshot wounds. His death generated outrage among community members, police and government officials, who vowed to curb an increase in violence against juveniles.
Many parents at the funeral saw it as an opportunity to educate their children, who are often confronted with violence at school and in their neighborhoods. One mother, Willette Bassil, 39, of Hyattsville, kept her 11-year-old son, Daiquan Johnson, out of school in order to attend the funeral, in hopes it would have an impact.
"He's never seen a child in a casket at such a young age," Bassil said. "That's why I brought him here today. I'm praying I'll get through to him."
Her son, in a necktie and slacks, was wide-eyed and silent.
Other young people, already hardened by gunfire and bloodshed, turned to the rituals they know. A group of eight girls went to a shopping mall on Wednesday to have T-shirts made in honor of Michael.
Shekeira Lesueur, 13, a classmate of Michael's, wore her T-shirt to the service yesterday. "It's hard," she said. "I loved Mike like he was a cousin to me."
Another young mourner, standing on the steps outside the church at the start of the service, said, "I can't stay in there," as tears streamed down her face.
Inside, many mourners grasped tissues, dabbing tears as they read the boy's obituary, which read in part, "Michael was always a devoted and protective older brothers to his younger siblings. From the moment of his birth until the day he was taken from us, his life has always been filled with thrills."
The service was rousing and jubilant at times, somber at others. One singer especially touched the crowd as she sang:
Don't cry for me
Don't shed a tear
The times I've shared with you will always be
While he's gone, please carry on.
The crowd was silent, except for Pamela Swann, Michael's mother. She buried her face in her hands as she cried, long, hard and loud.
On nearby 11th Street, Charles Ross, 47, a laborer, was working to refurbish a rowhouse. He didn't know Michael but was struck by the number of young people attending the service.
"What are they thinking?" Ross said. "Another 13-year-old looking at the death of another 13-year-old. That's a lot, though. That's a lot."
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