Family and friends sang, prayed and burned candles on an East Baltimore basketball court Friday evening to remember John Jackson III, a 40-year-old father of two they recalled as a friendly and religious man. Police said he died this week after being shot nearby late last week.
More than 150 people crowded in and around the court in the 900 block of N. Caroline St. for the vigil honoring Jackson.
"My son was a quiet, humble, happy kind of fun guy," said his mother, Joanne Brown, 59, before joining the vigil. She said he loved people and was a devout Christian, who leaves two young daughters, ages 13 and 8. Brown said she believed her son was not the intended target of the shooting.
"It's crazy," said Carlos Young, 33, a friend, who wore a T-shirt he had made with a photo of Jackson praying. The shirt also bore the benediction, "R.I.P. Free," Jackson's nickname. Young said he and Jackson both attended United Baptist Church a couple of blocks away on East Eager Street.
Jackson, who lived in the 1000 block of N. Milton St., was standing with a group of people on Caroline Street about 11 p.m. May 17 when witnesses told police shots were fired, according to Detective Brandon Echevarria, a police spokesman. The crowd ran, then discovered Jackson lying face down on the pavement with a gunshot wound to the head, Echevarria said.
Jackson was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition and pronounced dead Wednesday, the police spokesman said, adding that the shooting remains under investigation.
"This was a good guy," said Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who attended the vigil and comforted Jackson's mother.
Speaking before the vigil started, the council president said he'd known the victim for years and called him a "happy-go-lucky guy" who "liked to live life free." He said the delay in pronouncing Jackson dead was because he was an organ donor, and the time allowed doctors to harvest his organs.
Jackson had begun working this year for the city Department of Public Works, Young said. The council president said that though Jackson lived with his mother on North Milton Street, he had grown up in the neighborhood where he was shot and often visited. Young recalled joking with Jackson about his tendency to perch on a shopping cart in the Church Square Shopping Center on Caroline Street and call himself "governor."
"This guy really touched my life in a way I didn't think I would let anyone," Young said, since losing his own nephew to gun violence. Young said Jackson was his mother's last child; he had a brother who had been killed.
As mourners gathered outside Starr's Barbershop waiting for the vigil to begin, the council president said the neighborhood contained many upstanding, hard-working people.
"This is not a bad area," he said. "Just bad people come here and do their dirt and go back home."