A church packed with mourners said goodbye to 14-year-old Eric Baxley Jr. last night with prayers, fiery preaching and rousing hymns.
But on the faces of the many young people who filled the congregation of St. James Apostolic Church in Glen Burnie, the grief, sadness and shock at losing their friend was most evident.
Many of the mourners were Eric's classmates from Lakeland Middle School, where he was in the eighth grade. Several sobbed uncontrollably as they walked to the front of the church, where he lay in a copper casket, dressed in a yellow suit.
Eric's teammates from the Andover Apaches football team of the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association, for which he played tight end, wore their orange and black jerseys with black armbands.
"So many broken hearts here," said the Rev. Larry Lee Thomas, pastor of the church. "So many who don't understand."
Indeed, the mourners did not understand how Eric -- described in an obituary that was handed out as a "well-mannered but quiet person," who "was reared in a Christian home with a Christian upbringing" -- got caught up in the violence that has taken so many young lives.
He died early Saturday after being wounded twice in the back in a drive-by shooting as he walked down South Paca Street near his home in Southwest Baltimore. The police -- who have arrested Shawn M. Calimer, 18, and charged him with first-degree murder -- said it appeared Eric was not the target.
The death of yet another black youth especially troubled the congregation.
"Oh, God, I ask you to bless our young people, especially our young black men, whose blood is running in the streets," said Elder Allen Edwards in his invocation.
"We're tired of seeing our young men and young women being slaughtered in the streets," said Pastor Thomas.
"God gave you to us as a special gift, and now your sudden death is truly a myth," Eric's aunt, Emelda Furlow, read from a poem she composed. "God is trying to tell us something, if we would only listen . . . something has to be done about all this crime."