By Kim Geiger
9:04 PM CDT, March 19, 2013
Mary Young looked out at the hundreds of people who had packed into New Beginnings Church of Chicago to say goodbye to 6-month-old shooting victim Jonylah Watkins.
Young, a mother of eight, was about to bury her granddaughter. But first, she had a message for her city.
"My neighbors of Chicago, what have thou done?" Young said, standing at a podium overlooking her granddaughter's tiny casket. "You brought in the darkness, removed the sun. It's now obvious the time has come when killing one another will no longer be tolerated by anyone."
Jonylah was shot to death in the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood last week during what police said was apparently an attack on her father. The shooter is still at large.
Young, who wore a bright pink shirt and white jacket — the color scheme donned by all of the infant's family members — said Jonylah's death should inspire an end to the "destructive mayhem" of violence in Chicago. While homicides are down this year compared to last, gun violence remains a deadly reality, especially on the South Side.
"My neighbors of Chicago, have you lost your voice?" Young continued. "How can you just stand back and let our future take its course? Our youth is in danger on the streets of this town, with the false code of silence while they shoot each other down.
"My neighbors of Chicago, take back your home," she said. "Don't spare the rod and leave your children to roam."
It was the shortest speech in the two-hour service, but it left an impression.
"She said a whole mouthful. The words (were) touching," said Sharon Harrison, 57, a church member who attended the service but does not know the family. "Everybody needs to pull together to stop the violence."
"That was fantastic," said Geraldine Clair, 53, another attendee who did not know the family. "That might reach out and touch some people."
Jonylah was sitting on her father's lap in a parked minivan near East 65th Street and South Maryland Avenue on the afternoon of March 11 when a gunman opened fire. She was struck by a single bullet, which caused wounds to multiple organs. She died early the next morning.
Her father, Jonathan Watkins, suffered wounds to his buttock and left side and was released Thursday from Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The gunman fled in a blue conversion van, police said.
The shooting made national headlines and rocked the city, especially the South Side community. It caught the attention of Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, who recorded a song in the infant's honor titled "Jonylah Forever."
Tuesday's service was attended by about 1,000 people, said the Rev. Corey Brooks. Watkins and his wife, Judy Young, wore white sweatshirts with pink lettering honoring their slain child. Watkins had nicknamed the little girl "Smooch," which means "many kisses," the family wrote in an obituary.
The line of mourners extended around the church at 6620 S. King Drive as people waited in a windy chill to pay their respects to the family. Tears streamed down people's faces as they approached the open casket for a glance at the baby's body, dressed in a pink gown and cream-colored hat.
Wreaths that said "Mom" and "Dad" were arrayed on either side of the casket, and dozens of stuffed animals adorned the area leading to the church stage. A sketch of the smiling Jonylah, set to the right of the casket, depicted her as "God's Angel," while two giant screens displayed a collage of photos of the baby and her family.
Mary Young was one of many speakers who stressed the need to curb gun violence and break the cycle of street revenge.
"This beautiful child, with that wonderful, luminous smile, leaves behind grieving parents, a stunned city and a society shocked by its own cruelty," said Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Chicago.
"If the blood of this baby does not change our lives, we are beyond being changed," said the Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.
More than a week after the shooting occurred, police were still investigating but had made no arrests. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Monday he was confident that the case would eventually be solved.
Watkins was being cooperative with police, McCarthy said, but he noted that police think "there's a lot more he can help us with."
Police initially said the infant was shot while her father was standing outside an open passenger door, changing her diaper. McCarthy said Monday that the shooting actually took place while the baby was sitting on Watkins' lap in the driver's seat of the van.
McCarthy refuted some published reports that Jonylah was shot multiple times, and that her mother, Judy, had been the victim of a shooting while pregnant with Jonylah last year.
Mary Young told reporters last week that Jonylah's father knows the identity of the shooter. But Brooks, who has been acting as a spokesman for the family, has insisted that Watkins has been cooperating "fully and completely," and that if he knew the identity of the shooter, "he would have given (police) that name immediately."
Watkins went to a Far South Side police station on the night of his release from the hospital, and Brooks said he spoke with investigators.
Ald. Willie Cochran, who represents the 20th Ward where Jonylah was shot, said the community was ultimately to blame for the infant's death. He called for people to help police catch the killer.
"Somebody's going to pay for this child being killed," Cochran said as the crowd cheered. "Somebody's going to pay. Bring them forward!"
Tribune reporter Jeremy Gorner contributed.
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