Tag Archives: funeral

Thousands expected at funeral for Freddie Gray

Thousands were expected April 27 at a funeral for a man who died after sustaining serious spinal injuries while in the custody of Baltimore police.

Funeral services were planned for 11 a.m. EDT Monday for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died April 19 after an encounter days earlier with police left him with grave spinal injuries. Pastor Jamal Bryant, who was to deliver Gray’s eulogy, said he expected Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church to be filled for the service. A cemetery burial was to follow.

In Washington, the White House said the head of President Barack Obama’s initiative for young men of color would attend. Broderick Johnson, chairman of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and a Baltimore native, is to be joined by two other administration officials, a White House statement said.

Mourners who didn’t even know Gray filed in a steady stream for hours into a funeral home for his wake Sunday afternoon. Some supporters stood outside the Vaughn Green East funeral home with signs that read, “We remember Freddie” and “Our Hearts Are With The Gray Family.”

Inside, mourners passed by Gray’s silk-draped, white coffin where he lay dressed in a white shirt, black pants, white sneakers and an all-white Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap. Above the lid to the coffin was a floral arrangement and inside the lid was a pillow with a screen-printed picture of Gray flanked by doves and the quote, “Peace, Y’all” at the bottom edge.

Melissa McDonald, 36, who said she was Gray’s cousin, wore a shirt with “Freddie Forever” printed on the back. She described her cousin as a nonviolent person.

“He didn’t deserve to die the way he did,” she said.

Gray’s wake followed demonstrations on Aprill 25 that turned violent. Roughly 1,200 protesters rallied outside City Hall that afternoon, officials said. A smaller group splintered off and looted a convenience store and smashed storefront windows. A protester tossed a flaming metal garbage can toward a line of police officers in riot gear as they tried to push back the crowd. Earlier, a group of protesters smashed the windows of at least three police cars.

Some 34 people were arrested, according to Baltimore Police Department, and six police officers sustained minor injuries.

During a news conference April 26, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for protesters to be peaceful.

“At the end of the day, we are one Baltimore. We need to support peaceful demonstration and continue to enforce in our communities that rioting, violence, and looting will not be tolerated in our city,” the mayor said. “Together we can be one Baltimore and seek answers as we seek justice and as we seek peace.”

Gray’s death has prompted near-daily demonstrations. Gray was arrested one week before he died when officers chased him through a West Baltimore neighborhood and dragged him into a police van.

Police said Gray was arrested after he made eye contact with officers and ran away. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into the van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, police have said.

Gray asked for medical help several times, beginning before he was placed in the van. After a 30-minute ride that included three stops, paramedics were called.

Authorities have not explained how or when Gray’s spine was injured.

Police acknowledged Friday that Gray should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested – before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the police department’s policy.

More than 1,000 attend tearful funeral for Tony Robinson in Madison

At least 1,000 people attended the funeral of Tony Robinson in Madison yesterday, where friends and family remembered him as a friendly, funny person who liked to play basketball. Many said they hoped his death would bring change that might prevent other young men of color from suffering the same fate.

The biracial Robinson, also known as Terrell, was 19 when he was shot and killed on March 6 after what Madison police described as a confrontation in which he assaulted veteran white police officer Matt Kenny, 45. A preliminary autopsy showed that Robinson was shot in his head, torso and right arm.

Although the autopsy report did not say whether Robinson was facing or turned away from Kenny, it acknowledged that he died from “firearm related trauma.” The medical examiner didn’t say when a final report would be released, but did say the results of toxicology tests aren’t expected for several weeks.

The shooting incident occurred after Kenny responded to a call complaining that a young man had assaulted someone and was jumping in and out of traffic. According to a police report, Kenny heard a disturbance and forced his way into an apartment where Robinson had gone in the city’s Willy Street area. The report said Kenny fired after Robinson assaulted him.

Robinson’s mourners packed a high school field house and spilled into a secondary gym for the funeral. The family of the deceased had requested no outward signs of protest, and people who brought signs were politely told to put them away. A few mourners wore T-shirts saying “Black Lives Matter,” which has become the unofficial motto of demonstrations against police shootings of African Americans.

The Rev. David Hart, who led the memorial, said, “It’s up to us to support Terrell’s vision of immortality … through our commitment to ensure that another senseless and violent murder like this doesn’t happen.”

Mourners applauded several times. They stood and raised their fists after Robinson’s grandmother spoke. But otherwise, the mood was somber. Ushers handed out tissues to the tearful crowd.

Robinson’s aunt, Lorien Carter, read a poem she wrote for the service. “He is our own martyr, who dwells forever in our lives,” she read.

Johanna Valdez, who attended the funeral, said she used to play one-on-one basketball with Robinson after school and remembered him as goofy and fun.

“He was always listening if you needed someone to talk to,” said Valdez, who went to Sun Prairie High School where Robinson graduated.


Robinson’s death was the latest in a string of police shootings of unarmed black men since last summer that have sparked numerous protests throughout the nation. Thousands have joined in peaceful rallies and demonstrations in Madison, but protests have turned violent in other cities, particularly in Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teen Michael Brown was gunned down by ex-officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Just last week, two policemen were injured from gunfire during one of the demonstrations that have continued for months in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

From the beginning, Madison police tried to strike a more conciliatory tone than their counterparts in Ferguson had done. Police Chief Mike Koval rushed to the home of Robinson’s family on the night of the killing and prayed with his grandmother in the driveway. He said he understood the community’s anger and emphasized the right of protesters to march peacefully.

But some people at the funeral said they thought the shooting was an overreaction by police.

“What I personally don’t understand is why they have to resort to shooting first,” Valdez said.

While the Madison protests have been peaceful, they’ve also exposed racial disparities in the state’s most liberal city. Only about 7 percent of the city’s 240,000 population is black, and demonstrators have complained about unequal policing in poor, black neighborhoods.

An open letter on the subject, signed by nearly 90 Madison religious leaders,  was released Friday. It said, in part: “Tony’s death has laid bare the truth that our social contract does not provide the same benefit for all members of our community; and that our policies, practices, and attitudes stack the deck against and criminalize black- and brown-skinned members of our community at an alarmingly disparate rate.”

Members of the local school and county boards and the City Council said in a separate letter released Friday that the community “must do better” at ending “shameful” racial disparities.

Attorney General Brad Schimel has declined to go into any details about the shooting, saying releasing information in bits has caused turmoil in other racially charged officer-involved shootings in the U.S. over the last year. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating the shooting under a state law that requires an outside agency to look into any fatal police shootings.

Schimel has said he hopes to have the bulk of that investigation done and submitted to the local district attorney in two weeks.

Division administrator Dave Matthews asked people to be patient, stressing that the investigation is massive. Authorities have said they’re looking at what every witness was doing in the hours leading up the shooting.

Kenny wasn’t wearing a body camera, but agents are examining video recordings from squad cars that arrived after the shooting and from devices people were carrying, he said. Matthews called the time it will take to review all the recordings “daunting.”

Hundreds at funeral for teen girl killed by Denver police

Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered on the weekend to say goodbye to a 17-year-old girl shot to death by Denver police officers. She was remembered for her big heart and gregarious spirit.

Mourners filled the pews at the funeral for Jessica Hernandez at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Westminster, in the suburbs north of Denver where she grew up. The Mass was held in Spanish, with English translation for the crowd that spilled beyond the church’s doors.

The Rev. Richard Nakvasil remembered Hernandez as a devoted sister to her five siblings and as an empathetic teenager who tried to help the homeless. But he relied mostly on her own words, reading a poem she wrote in which she tried to summarize her complicated nature.

“I seem to be a fighter, someone who doesn’t like connections,” Nakvasil read, speaking into a microphone so those standing in the back could hear. “It seems I don’t want peace. But really I am outgoing … But really I do want peace. Where there is no violence. I really don’t want to fight.”

Police have said Hernandez was shot Jan. 26 after she drove a stolen car toward an officer in a residential alley in Denver. Police Chief Robert White has said officers repeatedly told her and four other teens to get out of the car before two officers opened fire. A passenger in the car has disputed the police account, saying Hernandez lost control of the vehicle because she had already been shot and was unconscious.

The shooting, which remains under investigation, sparked protests and came amid an ongoing national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. Hernandez’s family and others have called for an outside prosecutor to investigate what happened.

But even as questions swirled about her death, Hernandez’s life was in focus on Feb. 7.

Her friends wore red sweat shirts emblazoned with a picture of her wide smile. Cars in the parking lot had “Justice for Jessie” scrawled on their windshields.

Nakvasil said he understood that for many in the crowd, grief was compounded by questions about Hernandez’s death.

Angel Rodriguez, 15, one of Hernandez’s former schoolmates, said he couldn’t make sense of the shooting, which left his friends puzzled and angry.

“We don’t want people to use a very sad incident like this to do something violent,” said Cisco Gallardo, program director for Denver’s Gang Rescue and Support Project.

The group’s staffers were on hand at the request of Hernandez’s family, but she was not involved with the organization, which tries to keep young people from joining gangs, he said.

“Any death puts your life in perspective, and for some young people it pulls them down. We don’t want kids to blow it out of proportion,” Gallardo said.

Many of those in attendance at the funderal had never met Hernandez but came to support her family. Hernandez was a lesbian, and her case has garnered additional attention from LGBT civil rights activists.

“When we see Jessie’s face, that’s like looking in the mirror,” Miriam “Mimi” Madrid Puga said. “It’s tragic we’ll never see that smile again. But her spirit will live on.”

Navy veteran gets OK to be buried with her wife in Idaho military cemetery

A U.S. Navy veteran can be buried with the ashes of her late spouse in a southwest Idaho military cemetery after the state legalized same-sex marriage.

“It’s done,” 74-year-old Madelynn Lee Taylor said on Oct. 22 after successfully completing paperwork to be buried at Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise.

Taylor was previously denied permission to have her ashes interred with Jean Mixner because of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. The cemetery is owned and operated by the state.

Same-sex marriage became legal in the state on Oct. 15, when the ban was lifted by courts that determined it was unconstitutional.

Taylor had filed a lawsuit in federal court in July seeking to be buried with Mixner, who died in 2012. The case is now expected to be dismissed.

“Lee deserves credit for shining a powerful light on the injustice and indignity caused by Idaho’s former exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage,” her attorney Deborah Ferguson told the Spokesman-Review ( http://bit.ly/1wtNRE2 ). “Her persistence, visibility and refusal to accept inequality are a model for us all.”

Cemetery Director James Earp on Oct. 22 welcomed Taylor, who has serious heart and lung problems and uses a cane, walker or scooter to get around. Earp helped Taylor through the paperwork and congratulated her with a handshake when it was done.

Taylor and Mixner met on a blind date in 1995 and married in California in 2008 when gay marriage was briefly legal there.

When Mixner got emphysema, she and Taylor made a promise: Whoever died first would be cremated and later buried with the other.

They chose the veterans cemetery because they knew it would be well maintained and decided on cremation and interment in a wall so their names and spot wouldn’t get covered over with weeds or grass. They wanted to be in Idaho, where their family could come to pay respects.

“It’s a good day – we get to get Jean out of the closet!” Taylor joked  after finishing the paperwork. “She’s dancing.”

Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

Fred Phelps reportedly near death

Phelps, 84, is reported to be dying in a Kansas hospice.

Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church, which is famous for picketing the funerals of military personnel and celebrities waving signs declaring, “God hates fags.” His group ran a website called godhatesfags.com that spewed homophobic myths and sentiments.

Over the past 20 years, he became the poster boy for homophobia. Other anti-gay religious leaders went out of their way to distance themselves from his hateful words and bizarre actions.

News of Phelps’ deteriorating health first came to public attention on Saturday evening when his estranged son Nate Phelps posted on his Facebook page that the pastor had been excommunicated from his own church last August and now lies dying:

“I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain told Fox News today said Phelps is being cared for in a Shawnee County facility. He wouldn’t identify the facility but acknowledged that Phelps is “having some health problems.”

While Phelps has made fewer and fewer public appearances over the past year, his church has carried forth its hate mission through the work of his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper and other family members who formed the bulk of his congregation.

Ironically, Phelps’ fanaticism served to draw sympathy for gays. Some LGBT leaders have said he and his church did more to further LGBT rights than the civil rights movement’s own leaders.

This is a developing story.

Michele Bachmann to headline at ‘prayer and patriotism’ Awakening 2013

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, the ultra-conservative from Minnesota who unsuccessfully campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination last year, is set to headline at The Awakening 2013 prayer and patriotism meet.

The event is set for April 19-20 in Oviedo, Fla., and is described as a “unique and inspirational God and Country event bringing people together around our shared values. The theme this year is ‘Fighting for the Soul of America.’ You can choose breakout sessions with topics from Israel to immigration, from our families to our nation’s future.”

Bachmann will be joining others on the far-right for the event at the First Baptist Church Oviedo, including retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin and Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar.

The event is put on by the Liberty Counsel, the anti-gay organization implicated in the kidnapping of a lesbian mom’s daughter in an ongoing custody fight and associated with Liberty University, which was founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

An announcement for The Awakening said “food trucks will be on site for lunch.”

Before The Awakening, Bachmann is part of the congressional delegation sent to London to attend the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Bachmann is one of three House members in the official delegation, along with Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn and George Holding of North Carolina.

“She was a life-long champion of free markets, freedom and individual liberty and had the courage to fight for her convictions even in the face of undeserved ridicule,” Bachmann said of Thatcher in a written statement.

During her failed presidential run, Bachmann said she molded herself as “America’s Iron Lady” in the vein of Thatcher.

The funeral for Thatcher, who died last week, was to take place April 17 at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Anti-gay Westboro Baptist clan to picket lesbian soldier’s funeral

The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church clan plans to picket the funeral of a lesbian soldier killed on Oct. 1 in Afghanistan.

The funeral of Sgt. Donna Johnson, 29, of Raeford, N.C., takes place on Saturday.

The Westboro group, established by the Rev. Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kan., has for years picketed LGBT events and also the funerals of U.S. servicemembers, maintaining that their deaths are God’s punishment of a satanic United States that promotes homosexuality.

Johnson died in Afganistan along with two other soldiers with the North Carolina National Guard – Sgt. Thomas Butler IV, 25, of Leland, N.C., and Sgt. Jeremy Hardison, 23, of Brown’s Summit, N.C.

The Pentagon said all three were members of the National Guard’s 514th Military Police Co. in Winterville, N.C.

Johnson had been deployed twice to Iraq before going to Afghanistan. Hardison had been deployed once to Iraq. Butler was on his first deployment.

“They were the embodiment of citizen soldiers who put everything on hold to go in harm’s way for all of us,” Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk of N.C. National Guard, said in a statement to the Charlotte Observer. “They will be remembered and sorely missed.”

The American Military Partner Association, which exists to assist LGBT soldiers and their families, reported on its Facebook page that Johnson is survived by her wife Tracy Dice. The couple had been together for several years.

The bomb went off near the Pakistan border. A report in the Observer said a man wearing an explosives-packed vest rode into a crowded market and detonated the bomb. In addition to the deaths of the three guard members, four Afghan police officers, six Afghan civilians and the bomber died.

Ala. gov. signs law restricting funeral protests

Alabama now has a law limiting protests at funerals. Gov. Robert Bentley signed a bill this week mandating that demonstrators stay at least 1,000 feet away from funerals. That’s the equivalent of about two blocks.

Lawmakers passed the legislation unanimously during the session earlier this year.

The law is in response to disruptions by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which travels the nation staging demonstrations at funerals for U.S. troops and others. Members, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, claim God kills Americans because the nation tolerates homosexuality.

Church members have protested at several funerals in Alabama, including those for U.S. troops, a slain Auburn University student and a victim of a school bus crash in Huntsville.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard says it’s a shame such a law is needed.

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Priest denies communion to lesbian at mother’s funeral

A Catholic priest has denied Communion to a lesbian attending her mother’s funeral Mass.

On Feb. 28, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington responded to criticism of the priest’s actions with a brief statement that indicated the priest might have been right in withholding Communion but perhaps wrong in being so public.

The statement, first reported by the Washington Post, read, “In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day. When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for Communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”

The funeral took place on Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md.

Barbara Johnson attended her mother’s service with her lesbian partner. When Johnson went for Communion, the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo refused her.

She told the Post, “He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the Church, that is a sin.’”

When Johnson read a eulogy for her mother, the priest left the altar, and he failed to appear for the burial.

In a letter to Guarnizo, Johnson wrote, “You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me. I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, defended Johnson and criticized the priest.

Executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, “What happened to Barbara Johnson is one of the most heinous denials of pastoral care imaginable. In reality, what occurred was a denial of Jesus’ ministry, which so often showed an embrace of those on the margins and which regularly set aside the laws of ritual purity in order to attend to people’s needs. Most Catholics will be appalled by this priest’s actions. Members of our Church know the profound comfort that the Eucharist can be at times of grief, and how important our Church’s rituals can be in bringing families together. Tragically, this incident only added to the family’s pain.”

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D.C. police investigating fatal stabbing

Washington, D.C., police are investigating the fatal stabbing of a transgender woman in northeast Washington.

Police say an officer was flagged down and directed to a bus stop in the 4900 block of East Capitol Street where the woman was unconscious and suffering from a stab wound. The woman, 23-year-old Deoni Jones of Washington, was transported to a hospital where she was pronounced dead early Feb. 3.

Police are providing a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone that provides information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

A black-and-white video released by police shows a “person of interest” in the case. The video, posted on homicidewatch.org, shows a bearded man with a medium complexion, about 30 to 40 years old, wearing a black jacket over a gray hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. He is seen walking across a street toward a bus stop.

A vigil took place on Feb. 7 with more than 200 people in attendance, including family, friends and anti-violence advocates. Jones’ stepfather, Alvin Bethea, urged witnesses to come forward.

Earlier in the week, the D.C. Trans Coalition reported that at least one other person was at the scene and chased after Jones’ assailant until he realized the seriousness of Jones’ injury.

Jones’ funeral was set for Feb. 11.

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