By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer , [email protected]
From the moment the sanctuary opened at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, the entire community felt a sense of a family’s unbearable grief, as they and the County are trying to make sense of a terrible loss. Five children who lost their lives during a single car accident on Feb. 2 were remembered in a packed sanctuary befitting holiday services on a crystal clear Saturday morning Feb. 16.
Paris Dixon and London Dixon of Bowie, Rickelle Ricks, Zion Beard, and Damari Herald of D.C. were remembered as “dynamic young people” during a service that tried to be a celebration of life through a palpable sense of grief. Those presiding struggled through their opening scriptures and prayers with the emotion causing a premature conclusion to the tribute by Deara Scott who couldn’t finish her selection “I Told the Storm” well before the eulogy started.
“It’s hard to understand what happens in life sometimes,” said Rev. William S. Berkeley, Jr. who presided over the service. “Today is not an easy day, but this is an opportunity to celebrate their lives because they touched so many people in such a short time.”
Hundreds of Prince George’s County residents with no family attachment waited for over an hour before the doors opened to pay their respects to grieving loved ones who are comprehending the loss of the children who were between five and 15 years old. The slide presentation of the kids in happier moments played before respectful silence in the lobby as procession of family entered the building. Those memories included electric youthful smiles with promises of tomorrow taken too soon.
Leslie Vanbokkem-Boone, a teacher at Northview Elementary School, remembered Paris and London for their passion for arts and each other.
“Both girls loved each other,” Boone tearfully recalled. “It was a beautiful thing to watch.”
Robert Herald, Jr., the uncle to Rickelle, Zion, and Damari, spoke of how the memories of times he spent with his niece and nephews will last for a lifetime. Though an elder to the deceased children, Herald, Jr. said they taught him lessons that have had a lasting impact beyond the relatively short time they shared together during their lives.
“They had ideas for days,” Herald, Jr. said while pushing back his anguish to find a slight grin. “Everything they taught about myself I would’ve never learned if it hadn’t been for them. I will take everything I learned from them when I become a parent.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela M. Alsobrooks sent her condolences through a letter that was read by the church’s clerk Gwendolyn Hicks.
“On behalf of the citizens of Prince George’s County I extend our heartfelt condolences during this extremely difficult time for [your family], Alsobrooks prepared statement read. “Please know as a parent my heart aches with you and that you are in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this incredibly tragic loss of your beloved.”
“My hope is that through faith you and your family will find strength and peace knowing your loved ones leave behind beautiful loving memories. May the memories of your treasured time together provide comfort and remind you of the bright light that shined through their lives.”
Apostle Tony Braselton of Victory Christian Ministries delivered the eulogy where he tried to comfort the family with a sermon on preparing for death, while working to use the accident to explain the tragedy through a spiritual metaphor.
“It is difficult trying to make sense of why this happened,” Braselton said. “God was shaping them for their future.”
Two days after the funeral, one of the adults in the car accident who had initially survived, Cornell “Donte” Simon, was taken off of life support and died on Monday.