BROWNSVILLE, Texas — With friends and family still demanding justice for a Texas eighth-grader shot by police after he pointed a pellet gun at them, a neighborhood priest struck a different tone Saturday, urging teens at his funeral to learn from the experience and "get out of trouble."
The Rev. Jorge Gomez spoke in English and Spanish to an estimated 500 people who packed a Brownsville church for the funeral of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez. Police say Gonzalez was shot twice in the torso Wednesday morning after refusing officers' repeated requests to drop what was later identified as a pellet gun.
Gomez saved his most poignant remarks during the funeral for Gonzalez's contemporaries. Dozens of them filled pews at the church just one block from the teen's home and wore matching white t-shirts with his photograph on the back.
The priest thanked them for their generosity — kids from the neighborhood ran a car wash to raise money for funeral expenses — and urged them to continue in that spirit.
"I implore you young people, learn from this experience," Gomez said. "It is not easy to be a teenager ... but it does not last forever."
He added, "Young people, I invite you to get out of trouble. Don't get lost."
Gomez and others have said the neighborhood is a tough place to grow up. There are many single-parent homes and some gang problems. Neither was an issue in Gonzalez's case though, Gomez said earlier in the week.
Gonzalez was a drum major at Cummings Middle School and active in his church. His parents and former teachers have said he was not perfect, but his problems were more of the mischievous sort — not doing homework, missing curfew. No one has explained why he had a gun in school.
Police say Gonzalez randomly punched another student in the nose and was walking in a hall outside the school office when administrators saw he had a gun. Officers responded within minutes and on a recording of the emergency call can be heard shouting repeatedly for Gonzalez to drop the weapon.
But at the funeral Saturday, Gomez said he would always remember Gonzalez's generosity. He saved his money and brought it to the church to help buy candies for children during holiday celebrations. He was frequently seen delivering jugs of water on his bike to neighbors who couldn't get to the store, Gomez said.
Gonzalez's friends arrived at the cemetery later packed into the beds of two pickup trucks and chanting "justicia, justicia!"
Graveside, his stepmother, Noralva Gonzalez, who had raised him since he was an infant, shouted "Why? Why?" in Spanish. His father Jaime Gonzalez Sr. carried drumsticks and tapped out a few beats on a snare drum.
When the casket was reopened one final time, Gonzalez's mother, Irma Ines Cuellar, reached inside and yelled for her son to get up.
Ramiro Rodriguez, a family friend and the father of one of Gonzalez's close friends, said the boy was a good kid. He said that people planned to gather at the school later Saturday and march to a nearby park as a final farewell.
"I still cannot believe why they had to do that to a kid," Rodriguez said. "I want there to be justice for the kid."
Later, standing outside the family's home, Jaime Gonzalez Sr. said the only thing he had left to say was "justice." Asked to explain what he meant, he said, "Justice means finding out why they shot him the way they did."