DALLAS (CNN) — Friend after friend stepped to podiums at a suburban Dallas church Thursday to deliver tearful tributes to the kindness of Botham Shem Jean, the pious and beloved St. Lucia man killed by a police officer in his own apartment.
Alexis Stossel said it was difficult to sum up what Jean meant in words, but she tried a few: “silly,” “faithful,” “the biggest, extroverted accountant you’d ever find.” But what encapsulated him most was his definition of success, his friend said.
“We serve others through the messages we send. … You’re successful when you help others, not just when you’re most able but most anytime,” Stossel recalled him saying, pausing to ponder the words. “Gosh, he was so successful, wasn’t he? He was always in service of others, even when it wasn’t convenient for him.”
The ceremony came a day after a City Council session was interrupted by protesters demanding answers in Jean’s death. Protesters cited a lack of public information about how and why off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Jean. Guyger, who is white, has been charged with manslaughter in the killing and has told police she mistakenly thought Jean was in her apartment.
On Thursday, Jean’s uncle, Ignatius Jean, told mourners how his nephew had many interests — from geometry and astronomy to music, cooking and nice suits — and how he was so well read that he could hold court on “subjects from the furious to the sublime.” His uncle will miss their discourse, he said.
“When I got the phone, I was devastated. I was torn apart. I was ripped apart. He’s a brother of mine,” said minister Michael Griffin of Singing Hills Church of Christ, one of many settings where Jean had shown off his pipes with a choir.
Griffin, who delivered a prayer at the funeral, told CNN before the service that he takes consolation in knowing that Jean “was a child of God.” Named for English cricketer Sir Ian Botham and Shem, the son of Noah in the Bible, the Castries, St. Lucia, native was a generous soul who considered everyone a friend, Griffin and others said of the 26-year-old.
“He was the light. He didn’t look at color. He loved everybody,” Griffin said. “He was a person who would give you the shirt off his back and his sole purpose in life was to make humanity better, just to make you a better person, a better human.”
Many of his relatives were to watch the Dallas service from St. Lucia, Griffin said, and the family will hold a separate, more traditional ceremony when his body is returned home.
‘His smile lit up a room’
As mourners filed into the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ, Jean’s casket sat at the front of the sanctuary. Two screens showed photos of Jean laughing with friends, shooting hoops, sporting costumes and enjoying his days at Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, the school from which he graduated before joining the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
His mother, Allison Jean, visited the casket before embracing her fellow mourners in the sanctuary, as others who knew him or simply wished to pay their respects arrived by car and bus.
The funeral program said Botham Jean participated in student government at Harding, sang with the Good News Singers and led worship at the Church of Christ, of which he was a lifelong member.
“Botham had an enthusiasm for life that was contagious. His smile lit up a room. He was passionate about people and — because of his faith — shared his love and joy with everyone,” the program said.
The page included a piece of scripture, John 14:1-4, which includes the verse, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
At the Wednesday City Council meeting, residents and activists condemned the fatal shooting and called for upgrading the police citizen review board to provide it with subpoena and investigative powers to ensure more police accountability. Mayor Mike Rawlings called a recess and left the meeting as residents chanted: “No justice. No peace.”
Rawlings later told the The Dallas Morning News that he, along with the city manager and Police Chief Ulysha Renee Hall, met with the activists, who want to overhaul the current citizens police review board. The members of the 15-person board are appointed by council members.
“It must have teeth. It must have subpoena power. It must be able to hold these police officers accountable for what they do,” said demonstrator Olinka Green, according to CNN affiliate KTVT. “Because if we were to do the same thing, you guarantee we’d be locked up tight.”
Reggie Ruffin also expressed support for more police accountability.
“We need to curtail the police because the police have made it plain: ‘If you’re white, you’re right, if you’re black, we’ll put you flat on your back,'” Ruffin said.
He added: “And we’re not going to live that way. We shouldn’t have to live that way.”
Minister Sammie Berry, who delivered the eulogy at Thursday’s service, did not shy away from the controversy as he addressed the funeralgoers.
“If a black man — any man — can’t be safe at home, where can he be safe?” Berry asked the congregation. “These events should motivate us to take action that will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
“The apartment complex should take action,” Berry continued. “The state of Texas should take action. The city of Dallas should take action. The Dallas Police Department should take action. The community should take action.”
The congregation applauded and gave a standing ovation.
If there were protests, Berry said, they should be peaceful, because that was how Jean would have handled it.
“He would do it peacefully,” Berry said.
The fatal shooting happened at the South Side Flats in Dallas where Guyger and Jean both lived. Her apartment is directly beneath Jean’s.
Jean was home alone when Guyger, still in uniform after her shift, entered his apartment, Hall said at the time of the shooting. Guyger parked her vehicle on the fourth floor, entered the building and walked toward what she thought was her apartment, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
According to the affidavit, the door was slightly ajar as Guyger tried to use her key, which had an electronic chip, to enter. When she was able to open the door, she saw the interior was almost completely dark. Guyger described seeing a large silhouette and drew her firearm thinking there was a burglar in her apartment. She said Jean ignored her verbal commands and she fired two shots, hitting him once in the torso, the affidavit said. Jean died later at a hospital.
Guyger, a four-year veteran of the department, was released on a $300,000 bond after she was charged Sunday.
On Thursday, in a news conference after the service, Berry stood with Jean’s family and other church leaders to demand justice.
“The undeniable reality is he was slain in his home,” Berry said, “where he had the right to be and was abiding by the law. We are here for and demand justice for our dear brother Bo.”
Berry went on to demand that the investigating agencies pursue every possible avenue to ensure those responsible are held accountable, calling for fairness, transparency and accuracy in the investigation.
“We as citizens have a right to expect both protection through law enforcement when we obey the law, and protection from those in law enforcement when they break the law,” he said. “Justice must prevail.”
There’s one other question they wanted an answer for, Berry added, and that’s “why the officer hasn’t been terminated.”
On Monday, demonstrators expressed anger at the fatal shooting. Police used “pepper balls” on some of the about 200 protesters at a demonstration. Hall later criticized the use of the projectiles and ordered investigators to review the matter.
“They are only to be utilized if instructed to do so by the on-scene commander or if there is an immediate threat to the public,” the chief said. “I plan to meet directly with the leadership of the demonstration to address their concerns.”
Dominique Alexander, founder and president of Next Generation Action Network, told the council he wanted to know that his two sons are “going to be safe in their own living room,” and he wanted them to be able to decide where they want to live and start a family when they grow up.
Alexander was one of the activists who met with the mayor and police chief, the The Dallas Morning News reported.
“I want to have the confidence that Ms. Jean had with sending her boy across the world,” he said.
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