Police Called As Tensions Erupt at Funeral
Funeral-goers gasped. Some screamed and ran from the church as a week of tension since the child's disappearance turned into fear. Many in the congregation followed the men out of the church and into the streets surrounding Progressive Missionary Baptist Church at 394 Vance. Others dialed 911, fearing emotions might escalate.
Rev. James Collins, who officiated, stood on the sidewalk after the funeral, saying, "It was already a volatile situation, and based on an insensitive remark it escalated. In a situation like this people need to remember that anger is part of the grief cycle."
Hundreds of people had attended an 11 a.m. wake for Maurice, known by family as "Junior." He disappeared last Sunday, and his body was found in a South Memphis trash bin Tuesday. The father, Maurice Brown, 28, was charged Friday with murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse and murder in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect.
The child was in an open 3-foot-6-inch blue coffin and with a baseball cap on his head to conceal autopsy scars. A dark gauzy veil was draped over the open end of the coffin, and the tiny body left many weeping as they passed by the coffin.
It was during the funeral two hours later that the unidentified man walked out of the congregation of about 1,000 people and stood behind a front-row bench reserved for immediate family. He said the death happened because "a father wasn't being a father. I don't mean to lay blame ... "
That's when a member of accused killer Maurice Brown's family yelled, "You just did." Friends immediately restrained the man who appeared to be heading across the sanctuary to confront the accuser. Outside the church, a woman with him said he is a cousin to Brown. The man rushed away, declining to comment.
The wake and the funeral were emotional even for strangers who came to pay their respects. Elaine Covington, 32, a hospital custodian, said she didn't know the child's family, but was drawn to the wake because, "It was an innocent child. A child doesn't deserve to get killed. There's nothing normal anymore."
Rarlo Alexander, 49, a Downtown parking lot attendant, began to cry as he explained why he came to the wake. "That child is just too small to die like that. The father is just wrong for what he did if he did that. I think he should get the death penalty or something."
The funeral was donated by R.S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home. Public relations spokeswoman Patricia A. Rogers said the cost of the funeral-related services would have been about $6,000. Rogers said three cemeteries offered burial plots, and the family chose a plot at Elmwood Cemetery with a monument to be donated and installed later by Crone Monument Co.
The funeral home's director of operations, Andre Jones, said the funeral was intended to celebrate Junior's brief life and to provide the family "with a dignified service for a child they cherish and love. In light of the incident inside the service today (that brought police), nothing can take away from the real reason we were there."
The church program for the funeral had a smiling photograph of Junior on the cover and on an inside page, like a scrapbook, with the child on a carnival ride and smiling and laughing with his mother and older sister. The photos were in stark counterpoint to the violent end of Junior's life.
Two family members stepped to the podium during a "reflections" section of the funeral, but had to sit down, in tears, without saying a thing. His mother, Latoya Page Kanneh, spoke briefly: "Only God knows the pain I feel inside. I'm going to see him one day again. I know I am."