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Karon Blake’s family remembers slain teen as ‘loving, caring, respectful’

The 13-year-old was shot and killed by a man who told police he saw the youth breaking into cars, authorities have said.

A funeral flier for Karon Blake, 13, who was killed on Jan. 7 by a man who told police he saw the teenager breaking into cars. (Emily Davies/The Washington Post)

The block letters spelling “KARON” were longer than the casket that held his 13-year-old body. Some of the mourners were too small to see over the pews.

“I’m just angry I can’t grow up with him,” one of Karon Blake’s middle school classmates said, standing at a microphone Monday at the front of Israel Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, where a few hundred people gathered for a funeral for the slain 13-year-old. “He wasn’t like the other boys in my class. He was the nicest.”

Pictures flashed on the wall. Karon as a toddler in a tiny blue jacket. Karon with his siblings, wearing matching shirts that said “Family Best Friends for Life.” Karon, a little older, posing in sunglasses.

Beneath those images, there was Karon, inside a closed casket.

Karon was shot and killed Jan. 7 by a man who told police that he saw the teenager breaking into vehicles around 4 a.m. in the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast, authorities have said. The teenager’s killing sparked anger in the city over whether the shooter will be identified and charged, while fueling a broader conversation about youths and gun violence.

Last year, nearly twice as many juveniles were struck by gunfire as were in 2021. Sixteen youths were killed in shootings last year, double the number in 2021. And homicides are up through the first three weeks of this year.

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Some city leaders and community advocates have invoked Karon’s death to call for more resources for children and their families. Others have demanded that police publicly identify and charge the shooter with a crime, which authorities say they won’t do until a grand jury completes its review.

Police have released few details of the circumstances that preceded the shooting. They have said there is no indication Karon was armed. They described the man who shot Karon as African American, a legal gun owner and a D.C. government employee who has been placed on leave.

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Inside of the church on Monday, though, the focus was on Karon and who he was during his 13 years.

His middle school librarian arrived with a book tucked under his arm. It was a graphic novel about Gandhi, and inside was a printed a picture of Karon in school, holding the book.

“He was a library kid,” said the librarian, who declined to give his full name, citing a D.C. Public Schools policy. “He was always, always reading.”

The librarian said he brought the book to give to Karon’s mom, to show her that her 13-year-old had been reading about nonviolence.

Karon’s cousin took the microphone. He told a story from a day in Rock Creek Park, when he and Karon had run across grassy fields to throw rocks in the water.

“I love you, Karon,” he said to the casket. “We are going to throw rocks again one day when I see you.”

A boy in the back of the chapel buried his head in the funeral program, his nose between a picture of Karon at the kitchen table and another of Karon as a baby, with a pacifier in his mouth.

The pamphlet described the 13-year-old as a “sweet baby who grew into a very loving, caring and respectful teenager.” He liked pranking his mom, who he called “mama,” and was known for his sense of style (he always wanted to “look sweet,” the program said). He was close to his mom, three siblings and a long list of extended family members — who, one by one, shared stories from Karon’s short life.

At one point, mourners joined in crying out, “Justice for Karon.”

His family followed the casket out of the chapel and toward the hearse. No one smiled, except for one small boy. He played a video game, seemingly too young to understand what was happening.

Outside, three girls held one another, sobbing. A man banged his head against a wall.

Another of Karon’s cousins, 58-year-old Sylvia Johnson, talked about how often Karon helped out with chores around the house.

“He was a good child. A good, respectful child,” she said. “He helped his mother out around the house. If something was broken, he would always fix it.”

Johnson said she had seen Karon a few weeks before his death. He recently surpassed her in height. He was supposed to keep growing taller.

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.