At funeral home, a call for peace and remembrance for Freddie Gray

Scores of residents attend viewing for Freddie Gray.

Family, friends and hundreds of strangers streamed into the small wooden chapel for five hours, walking, one by one, to the gleaming white casket.

There lay the slim body of Freddie Gray, dressed in a white baseball cap, spotless sneakers, blue plaid tie. His boyish face appeared at peace — a sharp contrast to the events that precipitated and have followed his death.

It was two weeks ago, on another sunny April Sunday, that Gray suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody. He died a week later, on April 19.

On this Sunday, Baltimoreans passed into the chapel at Vaughn C. Greene funeral home in North Baltimore to pay their respects to the 25-year-old. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

"He could be anyone's child," said Angela Hall, 41, who stopped by the viewing with her fiancé and three children. "He's someone's brother. He's someone's son."

Like many, Hall said she did not personally know Gray or his family but wanted to show her support.

Gray's relatives, including his parents, sisters and grandmother, sat near the body in the chapel, greeting a steady crowd. A cousin, Tykira Jones, 21, said the family was heartbroken.

"He had a good heart. He was a good person. He wasn't a violent person," Jones said.

Jones said the family felt "disgust" at the looting and violence that capped a day of peaceful protests Saturday.

"They broke people's windows who were on our side," Jones said of those committing violence. "If Freddie were here, he wouldn't have done that."

But James Grooms, 25, a friend who grew up with Gray in West Baltimore, said he thought the violence would continue unless police officers were charged in Gray's death.

"They didn't get fired. They didn't get locked up," said Grooms, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Gray's face.

The officers involved "better get justice or you all will see a lot more of that," Grooms said.

Outside, a crowd of demonstrators grew throughout the afternoon.

A group of two dozen residents from the nearby neighborhoods of Lake Evesham and Radnor-Winston, stood to show solidarity with the mourners.

Erika Castillo, carrying her toddler on her back, held a sign saying "We pray for Freddie Gray." Her 4-year-old daughter stood nearby with other children.

The 33-year-old said she had been trying to explain racism and social justice to her children in the days following Gray's death.

Radnor-Winston resident Joe Capista, an instructor at Towson University, said many of the families who came out Sunday were unable to join Saturday's protests.

"We wanted to recognize how important it was for our community, and all communities in Baltimore," he said.

Scores packed York Road as the afternoon wore on. Some people parked in the middle of the street and revved their engines, filing the air with smoke. Others waved signs and urged passing motorists to honk in support.

Passengers stuck their heads out of sun roofs and windows, raising their fists and calling out chants for justice.

"Hit the horn, man, hit the horn," screamed Troy Carter, 22.

She held out a gold amulet showing the face of her brother, Trayvon Scott, who died in police custody in February.

Police have said that they did not use force against Scott, who was wanted as an attempted-murder suspect, and that a pre-existing medical condition contributed to his collapse following a foot chase.

The parallels between Gray's case and that of her brother drove her to action, Carter said. Police have acknowledged that Gray asked for an inhaler for asthma, but officers did not have one at the scene.

Carter said her brother also asked for an inhaler for his asthma but was not given one.

"He's got six kids. It's not fair," she said.

Another demonstrator, Britney Johnson of West Baltimore, urged Carter to calm down.

"If they don't want to honk, let 'em," she said. "You can't let this eat you up."

Although the two women had not met before, they embraced on the asphalt, then raised their arms.

"Hands up, don't shoot," they said, a chant that has become a rallying call since police fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Several political leaders joined the crowd at the funeral home Sunday afternoon, including Del. Curt Anderson, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Councilman Bill Henry and NAACP chapter president Tessa Hill-Ashton.

"I know the family," said Young, who said he had worked with Gray's paternal grandmother at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "They're not violent people. They don't approve of what happened."

"I'm hoping we can all remain peaceful," Young said, referring to the protests.

Inside the funeral home, Gray's relatives pressed their cheeks to well-wishers, and rocked side-to-side in long embraces.

A small boy asked his mother when the man up front would wake up.

"Soon," she said. "He's very tired."

Gray lay under a fine mesh shroud that made him appear from a distance as if cloaked in mist.

A white pillow printed with his name and photo hung on the casket above him. Gray's image floated in front of a cloudy sky with two doves.

"Peace y'all," it said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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