Mourners fill funeral home chapel to overflowing at service for a boy police believe was killed by a child molester

Stabbing victim, 11, laid to rest

August 08, 2006|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

A few minutes into her eulogy celebrating the life of 11-year-old Irvin J. Harris yesterday, Phyllis Mickle asked the mourners to blow kisses in the direction of the boy's mother.

Many of the nearly 500 people at March Funeral Home in East Baltimore did as Mickle requested, putting hands to mouths and extending them in the direction of Shanda Raynette Harris.

Harris nodded her head in acknowledgement, then returned the gesture.

Nine days ago, Irvin was found stabbed to death.

"We love her. Look around this room, it's standing room only," said Mickle, an elder at the Kingdom Worship Center.

"I realize today, there is nobody in this room that hurts more than you and your family."

The 75-minute, closed-casket service made few references to the circumstances surrounding Irvin's death. Instead, family members and friends told stories of Irvin's desire to play football, even if it meant skipping lunch, and his self-made job carrying groceries for customers at a local store.

Before the start of the service, Harris sat in the first pew, and mourners stood in line to express their condolences.

Dozens of children attended the service, including Janae Tucker, a friend of Irvin who broke down as she read a poem she wrote in his honor.

A few in the crowd wore "R.I.P" T-shirts with Irvin's face imprinted on the front. Alongside the casket was a picture montage of Irvin's life. Friends and community members stood three-deep in certain parts of the chapel, while hundreds huddled around the closed-circuit television in the hallway outside.

There were lighter moments as Irvin's character was remembered.

"[Irvin] had many attributes of somebody that had been around for a long time," Mickle said in her eulogy. "He had a job. He had a cell phone. He even had a little girlfriend. Ain't that all right?"

Only one reference was made to Melvin L. Jones Jr., the man accused of stabbing Irvin late last month.

Jones, 52, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of the boy, whose family he had befriended. Jones was a registered sex offender, though police said they have not found evidence that Irvin had been molested.

Jones, however, was close to the boy, baby-sitting him and taking him on outings.

Irvin's father is serving a 20-year sentence for murdering a man when Irvin was 3.

Irvin was reported missing July 28, and his body was found two days later in Northeast Baltimore's Belair-Edison neighborhood.

Jones pleaded guilty in 1990 to sexual child abuse after fondling a 4-year-old female relative.

He spent much of the last 15 years living with his mother in Southwest Baltimore, where he was accused of three other sex crimes.

Harris had received criticism for allowing her child to be around someone she knew was a child molester, but those who spoke during the service defended the mother.

"There was no crystal ball," said Tracey Fentress, program director of Day Spring, to the mourners. "Nobody knew it would turn out like this."

Fentress, who was the only person to mention Jones by name, said afterward that she felt compelled to deliver such a message.

"Nothing like this ever happens because of one error," Fentress said. "I just think that if we ever want to get to the point to where we truly do something about this, everybody has to come together. We can't be blaming."

It was a theme that resonated with Tracey Hall, whose renditions of "Precious Lord" and "Goin' up Yonder" brought the service to an emotional peak. Those who had seats jumped up, waved their hands and yelled "Amen!" as Hall sang.

"I'm glad it turned uplifting and inspirational," said Hall, who has known the family for years. "The best point was made that this is not a solo thing. It is community, family, friends, and that was the main focus."

Mickle gave a similar message in her eulogy, finding purpose in the loss of a life so young.

Irvin would have been a fifth-grader at Collington Square Elementary. He was interred at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.

A representative for Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch said donations to the family can be made at M&T Bank starting today to help pay for the funeral.

"Even in this tragic, horrible death, it brought purpose to our lives," Mickle said.

"I believe somebody that hadn't hugged their children in a long time did. I believe somebody in the Police Department decided, `Next time, we'll handle it in a different way. Maybe we'll move a little faster.'

"I believe, in the penitentiary system, the next time a child predator says he needs help, we're going to get him help," she said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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