Jonylah Watkins funeral draws hundreds as mourners remember 6-month-old shot to death

(ABC7 reporter Ben Bradley)

March 20, 2013 2:50:16 AM PDT
Hundreds of mourners attended Tuesday's funeral for 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, while Pastor Corey Brooks called on the community to unite against guns and violence.

The child's death has touched many Chicago-area residents. Hundreds of people -- many who did not know Jonylah Watkins -- gathered at New Beginnings Church to pay their respects.

The funeral was both a celebration of Jonylah Watkins' short life and a commentary on how gun violence can ravage a community. The gunman is still at large.

Brooks, who became the family's spokesperson, says part of the problem is that the code of silence seems to be prevailing- unlike the high profile Hadiya Pendleton case, where multiple people came forward.

"We hope the person who did this will turn themselves in as they should. And if not we hope the people who know more about what happened will come forward so they can be dealt with by the proper authorities," said Brooks.

Earlier on Tuesday, mourners packed the church to say goodbye to the 6-month-old girl who was shot and killed last week. Her parents, Jonathan and Judy Watkins, had another moment with their daughter, standing at her tiny casket just before the start of her funeral.

Speakers included clergy, politicians and family members who condemned the violence that took Jonylah.

"Our youth is in danger on the streets of this town, with the false code of silence while they shoot each other down," said grandmother Mary Young.

Pictures of Jonylah flashed on two large screens, as well as her nickname, "Smooch," given to her by her father.

Jonylah was killed as she sat on her father's lap inside a van parked in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Police say Jonathan Watkins, a convicted felon with alleged gang ties, was the intended target of the gunman. He recovered from multiple gunshots.

Jonylah suffered one gunshot that damaged multiple organs.

During the funeral, Brooks often spoke directly to Jonathan.

"One encounter with Jesus can make the difference in your life," Brooks said.

As Jonylah's casket led the processional out of the church, her parents close behind, mourners, some who knew the family and many others who didn't, reflected on whether her death could really be a wake-up call for change.

"The change starts in the mind of the people," said family friend Deborah Woods. "That's what's gonna stop the violence, they gotta get a transformation of the mind and know what they're doing is wrong."

"We need to bring some development and positive opportunities for young people," said mourner David Cherry. "It's never too late to start doing that."

The gunman is still at large.

Monday, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he is confident Jonylah's killer will be found.