Holding candles under a blistering sun, family, friends and neighbors gathered Monday afternoon outside the Darley Park house where 12-year-old Sean Johnson was fatally shot last week and remembered him with prayers, tears and calls for the Northeast Baltimore community to stand together against violence.
"We're not here to mourn his death," declared Sandra Robinson, a neighbor. "We're here to uplift him. Sean is going home."
She urged the crowd of 70 or so to pray for Sean's family, but also for the "perpetrators that committed this heinous act."
Sean Johnson died Thursday at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, two days after he and three of his friends were shot while watching a televised basketball game on the front porch of the home in the 1700 block of Cliftview Ave.
The other three were not seriously injured, but Sean was shot in the head and tests showed he was brain dead. His mother, Shawnta Little, authorized doctors to remove him from life support.
Little, her eyes red, came to the vigil organized by Vonda Cole, a friend, and Trina Holmes, one of Sean's aunts, but left without speaking shortly after it started. The crowd stayed on, though, to hear from neighbors and friends, from politicians and community leaders — and then to hug and share words with each other.
The Rev. Henry Simon, pastor of the Mount Hebron Baptist Church just around the corner on Wolfe Street, led the group in praying to "bless this neighborhood and help us to show each other love."
Clifton Gasque, vice president of the Lake Clifton Longhorns youth football team, said the coaches had been looking forward to having Sean play this year, but "God had another plan." He urged parents at the vigil to bring their children — many of them hanging on the edge of the crowd — out to football practice in nearby Clifton Park and "do something constructive."
April Bethel hugged her tearful daughter, Tiarra, 11, while keeping an eye on her 14-year-old son, Devon Horton. Devon had gone to school with Sean and was teaching him to play running back on the football team, she explained. Then she shared the fear that parents everywhere have.
"We try to make sure we know where they are at all times," Bethel said of her children, "and sometimes that doesn't help."
City Council members Carl Stokes and Mary Pat Clarke, who represent parts of the neighborhood, expressed condolences to family members and spoke of Sean's innocence and promise.
"He and his friends were models to those of us who are adults," said Stokes. He apologized on behalf of the community for not doing a better job of protecting the young, but praised the neighborhood, saying it tries to watch over its children.
Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chair of the advocacy group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, closed the half-hour vigil with a prayer in which he pleaded to keep the neighborhood youth from the streets so that no other parent or family member has to suffer the pain that Sean's family is enduring.
As the gathering started to break up, he called out for community members to speak up if they know anything about the unsolved shooting.
"It ain't snitching, it's telling," he shouted. "Somebody needs to tell what's going on."
Police have made no arrests. The investigation into the shooting continues, according to Detective Jeremy Silbert, a city police spokesman.
"I just hope everybody learns a lesson," said another of Sean's aunts, Sheila Payne, "and that those that aren't right get right." Then she left, she said, to "comfort my family."
A viewing is planned from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the March Funeral Home at 1101 E. North Ave. A wake and funeral service are scheduled starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at First Apostolic Faith Church, 27 S. Caroline St.
Earlier versions of this article misidentified City Councilman Carl Stokes. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.