Jonylah Watkin’s cream-colored casket was so tiny it took only two men to carry it.
The 6-month-old girl died March 12 after being shot sitting on her father’s lap in a van in the 6500 block of Maryland Avenue the day before.
“There was just too much bleeding,” said Rev. Corey Brooks, who has served as a spokesman for the parents.
He is pastor of the church where the funeral was held. Mourners filled the New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, to capacity Tuesday as they joined the baby’s family and friends for a spirited funeral service that featured praise and worship, and a jumbo screen with photos of the infant – and messages for a Chicago all too familiar with bury gunned down youth.
Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Pilgrim Baptist Church on the West Side offered an apology to the baby. He said society owed it to her for “not doing our best to make this world a better place.”
Jonathan Watkins was the intended target of the shooting, police said. He stood with the baby’s mother over the casket Tuesday as she wept and leaned over into the white satin-lined coffin and kissed the tiny corpse.
Hatch told the congregation that the tragedy was not divine intercession. Like other speakers at the funeral, he called for violence to stop and for the perpetrators in this case to be caught.
“This is not God’s will. God did not do this,” he said, speaking of the child being taken “too soon.”
Ald. Willie Cochran, whose 20th Ward office is blocks from where the baby and her father were shot, was enraged as he spoke at the funeral.
“Somebody’s gonna pay for this child being killed. Bring them forward,” he begged.
The child’s death pushed the city on its heels – again, as it continues to grapple with gun violence. The year opened with over 40 homicides, after closing out 2012 with more than 500. Earlier this month, police officials announced fewer killings in February 2013 than the same time last year. Then Monday, the city was thrust into a new headline as Jonylah became one of the youngest victims of gun violence.
Family members were dressed in white at the funeral, with sweatshirts displaying pictures of the baby. Some hoodies had “Team Jonylah Baby Diva” on them and some had other messages. The unity was to honor the life of the infant they called “Smooch,” according to the obituary. Smooch was a nickname given to the child, who was born just after Labor Day – September 16, 2012. It means “many kisses,” according to the family, who noted Jonylah’s “infectious smile” in the obituary.
Theresa Thomas ,41, waited outside the church to get into the funeral. An announcement was made that the building was over capacity and no one else could enter.
Still, she waited.
“I had to come because it’s a baby and I feel sorry for a kid that gets killed like that,” said Thomas, who lives a short distance from the church.
Jesse Cox waited in the line as well. He was sad that the baby was killed before she could “experience life.”
“Where does it end?” he questioned. “It’s what you call senseless violence.”
Forty-eight-year-old Julius Rawls said it may be time for children to “bring toy guns and lay them down at the church” as a show of how serious the issue of gun violence is to communities and, especially, youth.
“Grown-ups aren’t laying down the guns,” he said. “So maybe the kids’ voices would be heard.”
Leak and Sons Funeral Home donated the funeral costs and the cemetery donated Jonylah’s burial plot, Leak and Sons co-owner Spencer Leak Jr. told the Defender. There was a modest police presence outside the church where the funeral was held. Police have not made any arrests in the case, which they believe to be gang-related.
Jonathan Watkins, 28, has denied being in a gang, but he does have dozens of arrests and five convictions. Supt. Garry McCarthy said that police were reviewing footage from a nearby camera. He announced that the video revealed a van speeding away from the scene down an alley that could be the getaway vehicle. Investigators are also looking into the existence of a Facebook message that threatened Watkins and could be involved in the incident.
McCarthy said the father is assisting police.
“We think there is a lot more that he could help us with but he is cooperating with the investigation,” said McCarthy. “We are going to close this case, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
Hatch said the community would not be at peace until Jonylah’s killer is caught.
“None of us will rest until justice is done,” he said. “And the one who did this ought to be held to the full (extent) of the law.”