Mourning a jokester, a free spirit

Melvin Beckett, 13, was one of 8 victims of city rowhouse fire

June 06, 2007|By Julie Turkewitz | Julie Turkewitz,sun reporter

He'll be remembered for his charm, his impromptu raps and his jokes.

Yesterday, relatives and friends buried 13-year-old Melvin Lewis Beckett Jr. II, one of eight victims in last month's rowhouse fire on Cecil Avenue in East Baltimore.

At his funeral at Bibleway Missionary Baptist Church on East Biddle Street, the church Melvin attended since he was a toddler, a plain silver casket sat at the front of the sanctuary. A gold hearse waited outside. One side of the church swelled with family, and a large photo of a young man in a black wool cap looked out on dozens of mourners.

A soloist raised her voice in song just before the funeral: "No more crying, no more weeping." The sanctuary grew quiet except for the click-clack of heels and the labored heaves of mourners lining the aisle between wooden benches.

One by one, friends rose and spoke of the young man who would have celebrated his 14th birthday July 12. "He had a mouth," said one mourner affectionately. He always had an opinion. He was a jokester. He was a free spirit. An uncle. An athlete. A brother to nine siblings.

Brenda Boyd, director of Tuttie's Place, a residential group home in Baltimore, spent three years with Melvin when he lived there. She described a charming and affectionate kid who earned the nickname "Little Tupac" for his rap skills.

"Melvin could get away with anything with the female staff," she said. Melvin's life was also full of bumps. He spent time in and out of foster care, sometimes running away to his grandmother's house on Cecil Avenue, four blocks from the scene of the fire.

This was the third funeral held for victims of the May 22 fire, most of whom were members of an extended family living in the rowhouse. Melvin was a friend of two youths who lived in the Cecil Avenue house and also died in the fire. His friends were buried Saturday.

According to the program at his funeral, Melvin attended Baltimore schools.

"He was my baby," his grandmother, Flora Ladson, said after the funeral.

In addition to Ladson, survivors include another grandmother, his father and mother, six sisters and three brothers.

Officials have not publicly announced the cause of the fire, but a source close to the investigation has said officials believe it was caused by someone smoking on a couch in a front room.

Funeral services for an eighth victim of the fire, Deneen Thomas, 43, are planned for today. Two others remain hospitalized: Thomas' granddaughter, Amira Williams, 3, is in critical condition, and the girlfriend of Thomas' nephew, Oneika Ellis, 27, is in fair condition.

At the church, the quiet service for Melvin turned spirited as Brandon Hill, 15, banged away at the drums and the Rev. Nathaniel Womack called for God's support.

Mourners first raised hands and then got on their feet to pay their respects. Karen Thomas, a counselor at Win Family Services who worked with Melvin, was among them.

"There was no question that Melvin knew God," she said.

julie.turkewitz@baltsun.com

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Previous coverage at baltimoresun.com/fire

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