A homecoming for a life cut short

May 28, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

The casket's lining was imprinted with the words "Going Home." But as the soft red light shined on the young face of Vernon Alexander Williams, it was clear that one of Baltimore's most recent homicide victims was making his spiritual journey far too soon.

More than 200 people packed the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church yesterday to bid farewell to young Williams, 17, nicknamed "Beethoven," who was shot to death a week ago after he bumped into a parked Toyota Forerunner truck, setting off the vehicle's theft alarm.

Preachers who spoke at the funeral called him a martyr whose death should finally alert the city to the senselessness of gun violence that was destroying too many young lives.

"This is not a funeral. This is a homecoming," the Rev. Willie Ray told the congregation. "Brother Vernon has been used as a sacrificial lamb so that God can get our attention."

William Norman, 29, of the 1800 block of E. Belvedere Ave., has been charged with first-degree murder in the youth's death.

The Williams youth died in the 4300 block of Clareway, not far from where he bumped into the truck while horsing around with friends. Homicide investigators believe Mr. Norman fired when he thought someone was trying to steal his vehicle.

A steady stream of mourners poured into the church, in the 4000 block of Sinclair Lane, to pay respects before the funeral began. Outside, police officers regulated traffic to accommodate pedestrians headed to the service. Residents of the Claremont Homes community where young Williams lived milled around outside before and after the funeral.

Teen-agers tried unsuccessfully to hold back their tears as they approached young Williams's casket. His love for basketball and humor were well-known in his Northeast Baltimore community. He dreamed of playing pro basketball.

The Williams youth was dressed in a blue and white warm-up suit as he lay in his casket. A miniature basketball was at his side; his left hand held a softball-sized orange ball.

During the ceremony, the small, 75-seat church overflowed with a crowd that lined the walls and packed half of the center aisle.

Mr. Ray, a longtime crusader against drugs and violence, said he was growing tired of coming to the funerals of young people. He directed most of his words to the scores of teen-agers in attendance.

"Young people, you are beautiful," he said. "But you're not beautiful when you're on crack and cocaine. And you're not beautiful when you're selling poison to your own people."

The Rev. Bruce Joyner, young Williams' uncle and his eulogist, warned the young people to turn to God and away from violence.

A good student

"We're living in a society that has become sick," Mr. Joyner said.

Young Williams was described as a "good student" by the Rev. Winifred Blagmand, a student facilitator at the teen's school, the Fairmount Harford Institute.

Outside the church, some of his friends described Vernon Williams as a friendly, respectful teen-ager.

"He was just a good guy," said Donahue Wright, 16, a friend. "I played basketball with him. He never started trouble. The whole neighborhood knew him. You can tell that with all the people here."

Another friend, Pete Elliott, cried before he could describe their friendship with young Williams.

Patrice Tyler, 17, said the Williams youth was "kind-hearted."

"When you were sad, he'd make you cheer up," she said. "He used to make us laugh all the time."

Miss Tyler said she was distressed by the homicides that she has become accustomed to reading and hearing about.

"There are so many killings of young people," she said. "Babies, children, innocent people are being killed. "It seems like more of our younger ones are dying by killing than older ones dying from health reasons."

Glenn Robinson, a cousin who described young Williams as "very respectful," said he hoped the youth's death would "open people's eyes."

"There's a victim for no apparent reason," he said.

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