A week after a 15-year-old Montgomery County girl was stabbed to death after a high school football game, pastors and politicians who gathered for Kanisha Neal's funeral yesterday decried youth violence.
"We better make sure that our children do not become desensitized to the violence around us," County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) told about 800 people who filled Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville. "We all need to get involved. We all need to teach our children that violence begets more violence."
Neal, who died Sept. 23, was buried afterward at the church's Lincoln Park Cemetery.
Hours later, school officials and police mobilized at football games across Montgomery County to prevent new Friday night fights.
At Springbrook High School, which was hosting perennial sports rival Paint Branch High School, school officials moved up kickoff by an hour, to 5:30 p.m. "I just was not willing to take a chance," said Springbrook Principal Michael Durso. "Another hour of daylight probably would enhance safety and security."
Uniforms were everywhere in and around the stands at the Colesville area school as hundreds of students and parents watched the home team defeat Paint Branch under a crisp evening sky. There were police in khakis, school security in light-blue shirts and teachers wearing jerseys labeled "STAFF."
"We need to have a good game tonight -- a safe game," said Officer Rodney Barnes of Montgomery police. "We're making sure these kids can have fun."
Barnes said there were six police officers present throughout the game and as many as eight at times. Usually, he said, there would be three or four.
During the week, school officials had urged parents and guardians to attend games with children to help deter fights. The message got through to one father in the stands at Springbrook.
Mark Doore said he brought his daughter, Christine, to the game and stayed to watch, just to be on the safe side. "She didn't want me to go. She's sitting on the other side," Doore said, gesturing toward bleachers across the field. "I'm playing taxi driver. Tonight, I took the extra effort to actually stay."
But many parents said they would have come to the game anyway, including Diane and Larry Steffes, who came to watch their sons Sam and Ben perform in the Springbrook marching band.
"I'm a little concerned, but I feel my kids are safe here," Diane Steffes said. "I certainly intend to come to the games when the kids are here and keep tabs on what's going on."
School system spokesman Brian K. Edwards said yesterday that there were no immediate reports of violence after nearly a dozen games across the county. A football player at a game between James Hubert Blake and Col. Zadok Magruder high schools suffered a neck injury and was taken by helicopter to a hospital, he said.
In the investigation of the Sept. 23 stabbing that killed Kanisha Neal, Montgomery police said yesterday that they are looking for more witnesses to the fight between two groups of girls and young women in the parking lot of Blake High School after the football game between Blake and Sherwood High School.
Based on witness accounts, investigators have portrayed Neal as the aggressor in the brawl and said they believe it was connected to a skirmish after a football game at Sherwood two weeks earlier that involved Neal's 21-year-old half-sister.
A 15-year-old Sherwood student has been charged with second-degree murder. Police said they believe the student, who has not been identified because she is a juvenile, stabbed Neal out of fear after Neal punched her repeatedly.
At Neal's funeral, there was no talk of which girl was to blame.
Instead, several speakers said adults are to blame for not doing enough to prevent children from turning to violence.
"God, from the White House to the statehouse to the schoolhouse to the courthouse, we have failed these, your children, and we ask for your forgiveness," said the Rev. Barry Moultrie, one of the speakers.
Duncan promised to focus on improving safety at football games and other high school events in the county. "I wish beyond all wishes that we could have done something to prevent this," he said.
Mourners cried as each speaker described Neal, whom they called "Missy," as bright, outspoken and outgoing. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer, owning a six-bedroom house in Atlanta and having two children within 10 years, according to an essay she wrote for a class at Rockville High School shortly before her death. She loved dancing, singing and writing poetry, her friends said.
The Rev. Lora Hargrove Chapman read letters from relatives and state legislators offering their condolences. One letter came from Kanisha's mother, Joyce Neal.
"Missy, I'm going to miss you always laughing and joking and trying to teach me all the latest dance moves," her mother wrote.
Dozens of classmates from Rockville High attended the funeral. They made banners with such messages as "You are in all our hearts" and "RIP Missy" that were placed below the church balcony and behind the pulpit.
A week before Neal was killed, a 23-year-old Germantown man, Stephone Wiggins, was beaten with a miniature baseball bat after a football game between Seneca Valley High School and Northwest High School, police said. He died several days later. Two suspects have been arrested; they did not attend the football game at Seneca Valley in Germantown but met Wiggins later in the evening, near the game's end, police said.
Bruce Hansen, a field security coordinator with Montgomery County schools' Department of School Safety and Security, keeps watch before a game yesterday at Northwest High School in Germantown.