Evanston remembers ‘always smiling’ Justin Murray at slain teen’s funeral

Source: Justin Murray funeral program

Slain Evanston teenager Justin Murray is pictured in a funeral program distributed Saturday. "Justin was affectionately called Babycakes by his mother," according to an obituary in the program.

Patrick Svitek, Online Managing Editor

They were supposed to see each other’s weddings.

And yet, Tyrone Gibbs Jr. peered down as he waited for the appropriate words to describe Justin Murray, the Evanston teenager who was gunned down last month in front of his grandmother’s house.

Gibbs had half-expected Murray to marry his younger cousin.

“It’s OK! Speak!” shouted one of more than 300 Evanston community members who packed into Faith Temple Church for Murray’s funeral Saturday. “It’s all right!” the audience member added as Gibbs struggled to talk, his arms tautly supporting his body against the beige lectern.

“It’s not all right,” Gibbs suddenly said, prompting several gasps from the pews. “It’s not all right that we have to bury him today. It’s not all right that what happened to him had to happen to him.”

Gibbs and other close friends of Murray recalled him as a diligent leader whose respectful attitude extended to everyone he encountered. But their remembrances were tinged with muted frustration as Evanston grapples with its second teen slaying of the fall.

In September, 14-year-old Dajae Coleman was shot dead while walking home from a party in what authorities later concluded was a tragic case of mistaken identity.

After the Evanston Township High School freshman’s death, Carolyn Murray’s push for a city-wide gun buyback program was accelerated to highlight the seeming senselessness of Coleman’s murder and other violent crimes across Evanston.

As the co-chair of West Evanston Strategic Team, Justin’s mother collaborated to curb the same gun violence that claimed her son’s life. At Saturday’s funeral, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl hailed Carolyn Murray as “one of the unsung heroines of this community.”

Carolyn Murray was seated in the front row at Saturday’s service. After his remarks, Gibbs slowly stepped down the altar steps and swung his arms around Justin’s mother.

“Even those of us on the front lines, we suffer tragedies,” former Evanston alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste had said moments earlier.

‘Always smiling’

Evanston aldermen, Murray’s former teachers and his friends spoke of an upbeat young man who inherited his mother’s knack for public service.

Patrice Payton, who taught Murray for three years at Martin Luther King Jr. Lab School, recalled an “always smiling” student who was the first pupil to participate in a work program that she created in place of the recess period. Murray was so committed to the initiative that all his classmates joined him by the end of the month, Payton said.

Orlando Clemmons, another teacher who grew close with Murray, said the two could often know what each other was thinking simply by exchanging glances across the classroom.

“Tell them how cool I am,” Clemmons said Murray would have instructed him to say during the funeral.

Murray’s cousin L.A. Creech recalled Justin fawning over his new sneakers during a recent visit. Murray later told Creech that he had found his own kicks to show off and promised to bring them to an upcoming family reunion.

Creech missed that get-together for personal reasons. He vowed Saturday to never miss another family reunion in the wake of Murray’s death.

“So get used to seeing my face,” Creech said. “I’ll be there.”

Stark reminder

Several speakers lamented the alleged circumstances that they said drove Murray out of Evanston earlier this summer. His mother has said he moved to San Diego, Calif., to attend community college.

Evanston Police are looking into family feuds that have developed over the years on Murray’s block.

“Nineteen-year-olds should be full of life,” Tisdahl said. “Nineteen-year-olds should not need to be sent out of town to keep them safe, but some need that.”

Funeral attendees received a stark reminder of Evanston’s ongoing violence as they trickled out of the church.

Earlier Saturday morning, a 20-year-old man was shot on Howard Street in what authorities believe was a gang-related retaliation for Murray’s killing.

At least a half dozen EPD officers guarded the church’s perimeter as the funeral ended and hundreds poured out into the parking lot. Some officers lined the church’s street-facing lawn, while others stood watch on the front porches of nearby houses.

EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott said police presence has been increased in the west Evanston neighborhood surrounding Faith Temple Church but was not specifically amped up for Saturday’s proceedings.

As she left the funeral, Tisdahl told The Daily she is “sure” Justin’s mother will continue her advocacy beyond the upcoming gun buyback program.

“Carolyn is an extraordinary woman, and it’s extremely difficult,” Tisdahl said. “It’s a parent’s nightmare.”

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