Lying in a casket at the front of the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church, the boy in a white suit looked peaceful, his hands clutching a piece of braided hard candy. A teddy bear was tucked in by his feet.
He was Terrell Mayes Jr., and he was 3 years old when he died last week. His funeral Wednesday pulled together his family, friends, civic leaders and strangers moved by his death to say goodbye to the boy known as "JuJu" and ask how it's possible he could have been killed in his north Minneapolis home by a stray bullet.
Speakers throughout the nearly two-hour service called for gang members and thugs to change their ways so that no more Terrells die. The messages brought people to their feet, clapping and shouting praise. Some spoke about the boy they knew as an energetic kid who played football in the front yard and tried to ride on the back of his parents' pit bull.
Terrell died early Dec. 27, hours after being struck in the head by a stray bullet that entered his Hawthorne neighborhood home. He and his brothers had heard gunfire on the street and were running to an upstairs closet for safety. Whoever fired the shot hasn't been caught.
"When I heard that he got shot, my heart just broke in half," a boy named Matthew told those gathered in the pews. "I really hope he's going to have a good time wherever he's going."
Gov. Mark Dayton consoled the Mayes family on behalf of all Minnesotans, saying Terrell's death left him asking God for answers.
"I've never seen someone that small in a casket before," Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said.
Grandfather Christopher Neal said he would never forget the time he saw Terrell running through his daughter's house "buck naked." A cousin, Shamarrez Neal, read a poem for Terrell, and two girls with the "UNL Praise Dancers" danced in the church aisles.
"We lost an angel, a future community leader, out of our city," said K.G. Wilson, a community activist. "This is about change. If don't nobody change, then it will be a real bad situation, but if somebody will stand up today and say 'I will stop gangbanging because of Terrell, I will stop selling drugs because of Terrell, I will stop carrying weapons because of Terrell, I will go back to school, because I dropped out of school, that will let Terrell's death change me' ... If this don't make you change, come on, man, what is?"
Terrell's family wore white T-shirts with a picture of his face and the words "Never will be forgotten" and "million dollar smile."
The casket was carried out of the church to the thunderous sounds of a local drum group called Unlimited Next Level Drill & Dance Performing Arts. The performance was meant to be a celebration, said Helen Williams, a north Minneapolis woman who often helps families of homicide victims. "It's very difficult for kids to deal with death," she said. "I try to make it uplifting."
Several mothers on hand had lost children themselves, and they spoke of what lies ahead for Terrell's mother, Marsha.
"When this is over, no matter how strong she appears to us today, she's going to need people," said Mary Johnson, who lost her son to homicide nearly 19 years ago. Johnson went on to create From Death to Life, a support group for women grieving the death of their children. "It's good that she knows the Lord," Johnson said. "It doesn't make it all better, but it helps."
Essie Moore, who lost three children, ages 2, 5 and 6, in a 1970s house fire, said sometimes there are no words to ease the pain, just a hug.
Sy Huff, a radio personality at KMOJ who often works with youths, implored elected officials to work with the community.
From his pew, Huff vented frustration. "All of this is so wrong in so many ways," he said. "Where do you start?"
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747