By Ashley Childs and Amira Hairston
Thousands of people packed New Shiloh Baptist Church to pay final respects to the family of Freddie Gray, who died April 19, one week after he was critically injured when his spine was severed while he was in police custody.
The public began to arrive as early as 8 a.m. for the 11 a.m. service.
The doors opened at about 9 a.m. and while some mourners intended to stay for the service, hundreds of people stood in a line that led from the sanctuary doors to the front entrance just to view Gray’s body.
Hundreds of people arrived in groups. Some were in formal attire, others dressed down and some wore statement paraphernalia, but all were welcome. Many mourners brought flowers and by the end of the service the white casket was surrounded by them.
The crowd, a mix of ages and ethnicities, was respectful, with many people talking in hushed tones, with serious looks on their faces. And throngs of reporters were there to document the funeral.
Some people were disturbed by the huge media presence. “They are not giving the family the privacy they need; everything doesn’t need to be on TV,” said Jessica Hendricks of East Baltimore.
When the family arrived a little after 10 a.m. those standing in the swollen line were asked to step to the side so that the family could enter in peace.
The service finally began about 11:20 a.m. It was standing room only in the balcony as well as the main floor throughout the service.
According to a church official, the sanctuary can hold up to 3,000 people. He said this was the largest turnout for a funeral that he had seen in 10 years with the church.
Many who attended didn’t know the Gray family personally; and all weren’t from Baltimore.
Keisha Harbor, a resident of Northeast Washington, D.C., said too many black people are dying because of senseless violence.
“I’m here to give my condolences to the family,” she said. “We need change in our communities; black people are dying every day and they don’t have to.”
A projected message displayed on the wall throughout the duration of the service read: “Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter.”
“I am at a loss for words, in positive way,” said a resident of the North Mount and North Avenue neighborhood, who goes by the name Heaven. “This is a very important day.”
The Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church eulogized Gray and some other speakers include Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Gray family’s lawyer William “Billy” Murphy and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“What is the road ahead? Let us focus on minimum requirements for justice,” said Murphy. “Not just for this Freddie Gray, but for the Freddie Grays to come.”
Murphy went on to point out some things that he wants to see happen in the future. More police officers from black communities, more structural changes within the government to help handle situations like this and seeing more Baltimoreans “take the lead” are some of the things that he mentioned.
At one point in the ceremony, Gray’s stepfather stepped up to read a poem that was written by the family.
“I’m going to miss your smiling face. I think of you and wonder why,” read Gray’s stepfather. “I might cry or smile, but at the end of the day, I am one day closer to you.”
The family members of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and other victims were present during the ceremony. Influential government figures were also present, like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former mayor Sheila Dixon and Broderick Johnson. Johnson was sent to represent President Barack Obama.
Photo Credit: Herman Fogus
To see the full photo gallery for Freddie Gray’s funeral, click here.