By Sara Burnett and Jim Suhr Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Michael Brown’s relatives said goodbye Monday to the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer, remembering him as a “gentle soul” with a deep and growing faith in Christianity and ambitions that one day “the world would know his name.”
Thousands of mourners filled the massive Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for the funeral, which began with upbeat music punctuated by clapping. Some mourners danced in place, and ushers passed out water and tissues.
Eric Davis, one of Brown’s cousins, urged the crowd to go to the polls and push for change, saying the community has had “enough of the senseless killings.”
Brown’s uncle, Bernard Ewing, described Brown as a “big guy, but a kind, gentle soul.” He recalled his nephew once telling the family that someday his name would be known by the wider world.
“He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy at that time,” Ewing said.
Another uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, said in his eulogy that Brown’s “blood is crying from the ground, crying for vengeance, crying for justice.”
Among the mourners was Will Acklin, a black man from Little Rock, Arkansas.
“It’s important in that as a child I was pushed by police, mistreated by police, cursed by police, and I was a good kid,” said Acklin, who is 63. “I was an honor student. When I heard this, I felt compelled to come here and show my respects.”
Angela Pierre, a machine operator who once lived in Ferguson, where the shooting happened and fueled nearly two weeks of street protests, said she hopes the funeral helps turn a page and eases tensions. Most important, though, she hopes it provides healing for Brown’s family.
“I really wanted to just be here today to pray for the family and pray for peace,” said Pierre, 48, who is black. “When all of this dies down, there still a mother, father and a family who’s lost someone. Sometimes a lot of the unrest takes away from that.”
The church’s sanctuary, which seats about 2,500, filled quickly. Overflow rooms holding another 2,000 were full, too.
With the church at capacity, many people could not get in and instead waited outside, crowded into shady areas on a day when the temperature was expected to come close to 100 degrees. Ambulance crews were on hand in case of any heat-related illnesses.
Poster-size photos of Brown, wearing headphones, were on each side of the closed casket, which had a St. Louis Cardinals ball cap atop it. Large projection screens showed a photo of Brown clutching his high school diploma while wearing his cap and gown. He had been scheduled to start training at a technical school two days after his death. He wanted to become a heating and air-conditioning technician.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., has asked protesters to take a break Monday and observe a “day of silence” so the family can grieve.
“Tomorrow all I want is peace,” he told hundreds of people Sunday in St. Louis’ largest city park during brief remarks at a festival that promotes peace over violence. “That’s all I ask.”
Early Monday morning, Brown’s request appeared to be honored. At the Ferguson Police Department, where a small but steady group of protesters have stood vigil for two weeks, a handmade sign announced a “break for funeral.” The West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor was also devoid of protesters, whose ranks have typically swelled as days turned to nights.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot Aug. 9 by officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and a federal investigation is also underway.
Police have said a scuffle broke out after Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk. Police said Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air — an act of surrender. An autopsy found Brown was shot at least six times.
Family members denounced a video released by police, who say it shows Brown snatching some cigars in a convenience store just before he was killed. In the video, the person said to be Brown is seen grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.
Family and friends say Brown was an aspiring rapper with a gentle, joking manner who dubbed himself “Big Mike.” He was good at fixing things, liked computer games, the rapper Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie “Grown Ups 2,” and the TV show “Family Guy.”
“We don’t want anything tomorrow to happen that might defile the name of Michael Brown,” Sharpton said as he stood next to Brown’s father on Sunday. “This is not about our rage tomorrow. It’s about the legacy and memory of his son.”
President Barack Obama sent three White House aides. Others in attendance included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, moviemaker Spike Lee and entertainer Sean Combs, as well as many local and regional civil rights leaders. The Rev. Al Sharpton was also expected to speak.
Monday also marked the first day back at school for students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. Classes were scheduled to begin Aug. 14 but postponed due to safety concerns.
School personnel have received training in how to deal with students who may be experiencing stress related to the shooting and its aftermath.
“I’m excited,” said Marcus Baker, a junior at McCluer South-Berkeley High School. “We’re ready to move forward. But we’re still going to remember him.”