More than 200 family members and friends gathered at an East Baltimore funeral establishment last night for a memorial service for Derrick White, 15, who apparently drowned during a swimming class at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.
"He obeyed his mother even to his death," said Wilbert Golden, a friend. "He was an obedient son."
On the day of his death last Friday, Derrick had asked his mother, Bobbie Jean White, to let him stay home because he had asthma and feared going into the water. But his mother, who wanted the best education for him, told him to go to school, Golden told the mourners.
Derrick died after apparently slipping and striking his chin or head as he tried to get out of the pool. He became unconscious and slid back into the water.
At the March funeral establisment in the 1100 block of E. North Ave., large colorful bouquets of flowers and wreaths, including one with a big red bow from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, had been placed near Derrick's gray coffin.
Inside the coffin, Derrick lay with his hands at his side and his head on a white pillow. He was dressed in a gray pin-striped suit, blue shirt and black tie.
"Oh, it hurts so bad!" Derrick's mother, who wept throughout the service, shouted as she viewed his body. "God, that's my Derrick. I love my baby so much."
Christolyne M. Buie, Mervo's principal, declared Derrick an honorary alumnus of the school and gave his mother a school medal.
"He was a kind-hearted, generous person," said friend and schoolmate, LaTaysha Carter,, 14. "If you were down, he made you laugh."
"Out of this tragedy, I think he's done a lot to help students care for each other and appreciate the time they have with each other," said Evelyn Thaniel, Derrick's American government teacher. "They've learned life is short."
The Rev. Bill Bridgeman asked that God help White's family and friends understand his death.
"At this very, very dark time . . . nobody has told us anything about his death, other than that it was accidental," said White's uncle, Johnel White, after the memorial service. "That's what's really aching my sister. She wants to know the truth."
Since Derrick's death, city and school officials have been virtually silent on the matter.
Today, Derrick's family was to take his body to Natchez, Miss. for funeral and burial services.