By 8 p.m. the line was out the door. The wake began at 8:30, the funeral at 9. It seemed every high school kid in the city wanted to say goodbye to Rodney Beasley.
The Walbrook basketball star died after a car accident late Saturday night, and hundreds of friends and relatives jammed the March Funeral Home last night to ask, "Why?"
There was no answer, for Rodney Beasley was only 17, a happy kid with a seemingly bright future. No adults could grasp the meaning of his passing. Imagine what it was like for the kids.
They accounted for nearly half the attendance at the corner of North Avenue and Aisquith Street last night, wearing clothes they don't normally wear to a place they don't normally visit.
Lining the walls of the chapel and spilling out into the lobby, they heard Rodney Beasley's aunt cry, "Young people do the living Rodney didn't finish. Accomplish something in life."
Most were too numb, too drained, to reply. Tears filled their eyes, the awful reality setting in. Outside the night air was cool. Inside the chapel was steamy. A caldron with no escape.
The entire week built to this shuddering climax. A crisis-intervention group attended each of Rodney's classes Monday and also met with several Walbrook players. Still, there was no preparing the kids for this.
"They can't handle death," principal Samuel Billups said. "They read about it, they know about it, they have deaths in their family. But when another young person dies, that's something they don't know how to deal with."
How can you explain? Rodney Beasley didn't die because he did anything wrong. He simply was a passenger in a car driven by a friend. The fatal accident occurred just hours after he and three Walbrook teammates played in the annual underclassman all-star game at Morgan State.
"It's just shocking," Walbrook basketball coach Gus Herrington said yesterday. "We were all together an hour before it happened. We were together all day Saturday. That just blew everyone's mind."
Like so many Baltimore high school stars, Beasley started playing basketball at the Cecil Kirk Recreation Center. He spent two years at Dunbar before transferring to Walbrook, where he became a starting guard and Division I prospect last season.
His obituary in the funeral program said his objective in life was to become a professional basketball player. A variety of basketball ornaments adorned his casket. One was an orange replica of a ball with black letters that said, "NBA."
The kids knew all about that, and they knew Rodney was a winner off the court as well -- "A real happy person," said his friend Thomaseina Artis, an aspiring singer. "I'm kind of quiet. He used to sing all the time, just playing around, trying to tease me."
Artis, a senior at Walbrook, sang "On A Cloudy Day" in memory of her friend last night, sang it strong and true. Sobs filled the chapel, adult sobs mostly. The majority of the kids wore blank expressions, trying, trying to understand.
"A lot of people even after seeing his body still can't believe it was really him lying there," Artis said earlier. "A lot of people won't believe it until after everything is over. Everyone is still in a state of shock, thinking, 'He's not dead. He can't be.' "
But last night, they could not escape the awful reality. They saw Rodney's mother presented with his basketball jersey. They heard moving pleas from the various clergy, and an equally moving tribute from classmate Erica Holmes.
Principal Billups said, "When you're dealing with young people, there's no way to tell how it's going to affect them." In school they learn every question has an answer. Then they lose Rodney Beasley, and suddenly that no longer applies.
"We have to support one another," Herrington said. "When I first talked to one of the kids who was in the accident, he said he couldn't take it, he wasn't going to the funeral. I explained to him that he was your friend. If the shoe was on the foot, you'd want him to come.
"I told him, 'I don't think you can live with yourself if you don't go. If you have to cry to let your emotions out, there's nothing wrong with that. We'll probably all be crying. That's life. There's nothing we can do about it. It's something we have to accept.' "