Family, Friends Say Final Goodbye to 7-Year-Old Jazmine Barnes

Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed Tuesday as Jazmine Barnes Day in Houston

A memorial service was held Tuesday for a 7-year-old black Houston girl who was killed in a drive-by shooting that investigators say appears to be a case of mistaken identity.

Family, friends and community members said their final goodbyes to Jazmine Barnes, a loving and caring girl who was "very smart in school,” according to her father, Christopher Cevilla.

During the morning viewing at Community of Faith Church, mourners filed past Jazmine's open casket, which was adorned with pink hearts and the words "Princess Jazmine," CNN reported. 

Jazmine's mother, LaPorsha Washington, opened the funeral services by thanking the community for their support before reading an letter "from Jazmine" that was penned by an aunt.

"I'm writing this from heaven where I dwell with God above. Where there are no more tears, pains or sadness, it's just eternal love," Washington read. "Do not be sad just because I'm outside of sight. Remember that I am with you every morning, noon and night."  

Other speakers included Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, whose office is investigating the shooting. Turner proclaimed Tuesday as Jazmine Barnes Day in Houston. The mayor, who established last year a commission to look at ways to end gun violence, said the second-grader's death is personal. 

"We’ve got to work extra hard to do what we can to save all of our children so they can live their lives," Turner said. 

Former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal and a Houston police officer gave Jazmine's family a check to help pay for funeral expenses.

Students in the Sheldon Independent School District were urged to wear purple to honor the Monahan Elementary second-grader, according to NBC affiliate KPRC-TV. The school will also have counselors available for students and staff, the station reported.

A prosecutor on Monday said two men suspected in the Dec. 30 drive-by shooting that killed Jazmine  and was initially investigated as a possible hate crime mistakenly thought they were attacking people whom they had fought with at a club hours earlier. Both suspects are black.

One of the men, 20-year-old Eric Black Jr., appeared in court Monday on a capital murder charge. Black was arrested Saturday during a traffic stop. Prosecutors allege that he told investigators he was driving the SUV from which an unidentified passenger fired at Barnes, her three sisters and mother as they were on their way to a grocery store.

Authorities have declined to name the suspected shooter or say whether he has been arrested, but Gonzalez said he is also black.

Based on the family's account of what happened, authorities initially believed that a white man in a red pickup truck was behind the attack. But they later received a tip that sent the case in a new direction from Shaun King, a civil rights activist who writes about racial issues and has a large social media following. The tip implicated two black men in the shooting.

Gonzalez said there was, in fact, a red pickup truck driven by a white man seen at a stoplight just before the shooting, but the driver didn't appear to have been involved. The sheriff said it was dark, the shooting happened quickly, and the red truck was probably the last thing seen by Jazmine's family.

LaPorsha Washington told reporters at a news conference after the shooting that she "didn't see anything but shattered glass and bullets coming toward my car." Washington was hit by gunfire in her arm. Jazmine was shot in the head and died at the scene.

Gonzalez said authorities believe Jazmine's family has been truthful during the investigation.

Throughout the investigation, Gonzalez stressed that he and his investigators would not stop working on behalf of Jazmine, and activists and elected officials praised him and other investigators for their efforts.

Deric Muhammad, an organizer of a rally that took place on Saturday in Houston to demand "Justice for Jazmine," commended Gonzalez for working with the community to collect evidence that led to Black's arrest.

"We are still heartbroken at the thought of a 7-year-old innocent child losing her life in such a violent way," Muhammad said in a statement. "We are no less heartbroken that those person(s) currently charged with this homicide are Black; not White."

James Dixon, a prominent pastor in Houston, also thanked Gonzalez for working around the clock in the investigation.

"We are blessed in this city to have the kind of collegial relationships between pastors and law enforcement and elected officials where we all really work together, we cry together, we pray together, we serve together and sacrifice together. In moments like these, we come together in order to mend and heal broken hearts," Dixon said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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