When Wakes And Vigils For Gun Violence Victims Aren't Safe

Jan 24, 2018
Originally published on January 24, 2018 7:57 am

When a family loses a loved one, Lori Hadley-Davis walks them through the delicate and detailed process of preparing for the funeral.

Will the family choose a burial or cremation? What about flowers or a poem for the  funeral program? And when the deceased was killed by gun violence, it usually prompts an unasked question: “Do we need the police there?”

Hadley-Davis, a mortician and owner of  Hadley Davis Funeral homes, says for nearly all of the funerals she’s planned for homicide victims in recent years, that answer is yes.  

Family members quietly tell her they’ve been in contact with police and that officers will attend the services, or Hadley-Davis will get a phone call from a local police department telling her that officers will park patrol cars outside the funeral home.

“You shouldn’t have to have security at a wake,” she says.

But in the days after a shooting when police are still in the early stages of their investigation and families are carrying out the sorrow-filled task of honoring a life cut short by bullets, it’s not uncommon for wakes or vigils to become targets.

Shootings at wakes and vigils have happened in Chicago, Milwaukee and Dade City near Tampa.

And in the past two years, five people were killed and at least seven injured at wake or vigil shootings in Miami-Dade County. 

Hadley-Davis says typically these are believed to be acts of retaliation. Someone attending the wake or vigil was involved in a beef, a gang or some other misunderstanding. Sometimes it’s directly connected to the deceased, but not always.

She knows these stories from the funerals she planned for other families and her own.

Miami-Dade police are investigating shootings at two wakes and one vigil.  The department agreed to an interview with WLRN, but canceled the interview the day it was supposed to occur. A spokesperson did not respond to emailed questions.  

Last year, Hadley-Davis’ 8-year old niece Jada Page was gunned down outside her grandmother’s home. Jada was not the intended target.

“They were after her father,” says Hadley-Davis.  Jada’s dad, James Page, was also shot the day of the shooting. He survived his injuries.

Page’s presence at his daughter’s wake and funeral raised safety concerns. The shooters who didn’t kill him might show up to finish the job.

“They missed their target and they think their target is going to be at the wake,” Hadley-Davis explains.

Jada’s small turquoise casket was covered in pink hearts and her favorite smiley face emojis.  When her family and elementary school friends came to pay their final respects, police officers were stationed among the mourners.

“I feel like it protects us, that they’re not going to try nothing while the police is here,” says Hadley-Davis.

Terry Wright, director of Wright and Young Funeral Home, says on average he gets about three calls a year from local police telling him the funeral he’s planning is for a homicide victim and it needs extra security.  

Wright coordinates to have a police presence at those wakes and funerals.

“Uniform and patrol car, they’re not undercover,” he says. “We need to let them know we have law enforcement here.”

He Was Just Going To A Wake

Sirena Harrell felt helpless when her 15-year old son found out his cousin from his father's side of the family had been shot to death.

Isaiah Solomon sobbed uncontrollably when he read the news on Facebook. Harrell says shortly afterward, she was talking to a friend about the shooting.

“I said, ‘I would hate to receive that kind of call. I never want to know what it is to lose my son.’ ”

A week later, Isaiah went to the wake in Northwest Miami-Dade to say his final goodbyes to Devonair Blake, who had been shot 13 times in a failed robbery attempt.

Just past midnight, hours after Isaiah left their home, Harrell's cell phone rang.

There had been a drive-by shooting at the wake. Isaiah, her only son, had been shot. When she rushed to the scene, white plastic folding chairs littered the front of the home and Isaiah's ’s lifeless body was on the ground.

"If I could take my last breath for him to live again I would do that," Harrell says. "I wasn’t thinking that anything was going to happen. It was a wake."

That night, a man was also killed at the wake and four people were injured, including a local pastor’s daughter.

"It's not even safe to go to a wake anymore," Harrell says. 

Grieve In Peace

This past summer, Jedadiah Scatliffe, 18, was attending a wake in an Overtown park when gunshots rang out.

He was shot and killed just days after graduating from Booker T. Washington High School.

A few months earlier, Scatliffe had been shot once; he survived. A teenager was arrested in that shooting and Scatliffe was set to be a witness in the case . 

The Miami Police Department is investigating Scatliffe’s wake shooting.  Major Esther Farmer, a department spokeswoman, declined to go into details about the case because it’s ongoing.

Farmer said the police department works closely with families to make sure they can honor their dead with dignity and safely.

“If we have intel or some information that a vigil will be a target,  by all means, we will come out to show that we’re here, we’re with you and please grieve in peace,” she said.

But she says the hardest part of keeping a vigil or a wake safe is getting the information that it could potentially be a target in the first place.

“We have to go out there and talk to the community and the community has to trust us and give us the information,” she says.

When Scatliffe’s family held a vigil for him at an Overtown park, blocks away from where he was killed,  Miami police cars lined the street.

More police officers greeted mourners at the entrance of the park. Family members and friends holding white balloons formed a circle in the grassy field. Scatliffe's’s mom, Trevale Harris, could barely stand. Her nickname for her son was Eggy.

“My baby, Eggy please. Eggy please, please come back,” she sobbed.

As the crowd released their balloons into the sky, six officers stood outside of the circle in bulletproof vests that read “Police.”

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