HUNDREDS MOURN 13-YEAR-OLD KILLED BY STRAY BULLET WHILE DANCING IN HER LIVING ROOM
Amaria Jones, 13, was one of Chicago’s 104 shooting victims over Father’s Day weekend
Teenage girls sobbed, grown men held on to each other and others yearned to relive sweet memories Friday as they mourned 13-yearold Amaria Jones at a packed West Side church.
Amaria was killed last month when a stray bullet pierced her body while she danced in the living room of her family’s Austin home. The teenager was one of the 104 victims of gun violence over a violent Father’s Day weekend in Chicago. She was also among several children who have been shot or killed in the city in the past two weeks.
“Showing me a dance, she got shot in the throat and fell to the floor and reached out to me. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing,” Amaria’s mother, Lawanda Jones, said through tears outside the Greater St. John Bible Church. “To watch your baby bleed to death — my life will never be the same. Never.”
Most of the crowd Friday was dressed in Amaria’s favorite color — purple. Some mourners, wearing shirts, masks and headbands with the teenager’s nickname, “Ya-Ya,” had to pause in the lobby, bracing themselves for what they would see inside: Amaria in a purple casket covered with photos, next to the teenager’s No. 12 basketball jersey.
Because of coronavirus restrictions, a crowd of 100-plus mourners stood outside listening to organ music through the windows, waiting for the service to end so they could go inside the Rev. Ira Acree’s church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., to pay their respects.
A distraught Jones left the service a few minutes early, sobbing with relatives at her side. Jones remembered her daughter as the most energetic person in the room, doing everything she could to make friends and family happy.
“She loved to see people smiling,” Jones said. “As long as she made you smile, she was all right, she did her job.”
While Amaria and her mom watched television June 20, Amaria said she wanted to show off a new dance she learned on TikTok. That’s when shots rang out and Amaria was hit. Two teenage boys on the front porch were also injured but survived.
“I wish it was me. I’ve seen this world. She had yet to see it. And it was taken from her,” Jones said.
Amaria had finished sixth grade at John Hay Community Academy just two days before she was killed. She had always dreamed of being a lawyer. Members of a local Black lawyers group who had heard about Amaria’s ambitions announced Friday that they would create a scholarship in her name and make her an honorary member of the organization.
Amaria’s older sister, Mercedes Jones, hasn’t felt the same since the deadly shooting. Sitting in the front pew, a few feet away from her sister’s body, Mercedes let out a scream when the casket was closed before the service. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry,” she yelled.
Mercedes, flanked by her three brothers, remembered the sisterly fights she had with Amaria when she would steal Mercedes’ iron, nail polish and clothes.
“She was the perfect little sister, and I didn’t really realize that until I was here. And I hate that,” Mercedes said. “They told me my little sister was gone. From that moment forward, I don’t know why, and I ask God to help me, but I have so much anger built up in me right now. I get mad at the littlest things.”
Brandon Wilkerson met Amaria at her school when he went to recruit boys for his youth basketball program. Amaria jumped into a conversation and said she wanted to join. Soon, “she was like family,” said Wilkerson, the head coach of Amaria’s basketball team.
“We just took her under our wing,” Wilkerson said. “On the court she was just energy and fun to be around. She loved her teammates.
Just her vibe. She just brings the best out of everybody. She brings the fun out of everybody.”
Outside waiting for Amaria’s casket to be carried to the hearse, Amaria’s mom was in disbelief that she was burying her daughter. She cried that she’d “never get her back.”
“I just want to hold my baby one more time and treasure the moments that we did share together,” Jones said. “So I’m asking all the parents, give your kids the flowers while they’re still living. ’Cause when they’re dead and gone, they can’t smell them. They can’t see them bloom.”
As the state announced 18 more coronavirus-related deaths Friday and more than 800 new cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged bars and restaurants to continue to follow health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Residents also were urged to remember to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands during the Fourth of July weekend.
“The virus is not taking the holiday weekend off, and neither can we,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Letting our guard down now would fly in the face of the progress we’ve made over many months. We have seen that mitigation measures have worked in our state and we’ve seen too many other states rapidly lose ground in the fight against the virus.”
Pritzker said he wouldn’t hesitate to close establishments that won’t follow occupancy limits laid out under Phase 4 of his reopening plan.
Also on Friday, Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike stressed that bars, in particular, were ripe areas for the transmission of the coronavirus.
“Bars, by design, are social settings where people gather closely together for extended periods of time,” Ngozi said in a statement. “Additionally, people often need to raise their voices or shout to be heard, which means droplets from seemingly well but infected individuals could spread further than the recommended 6 feet of distancing.”
On Friday, The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 868 new confirmed cases among the latest 34,318 test results received by the state. The statewide rolling positivity rate over the last week is 2.6%, while just over 1.7 million tests have been administered overall.
Included in the new cases were 18 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 7,005 out of 145,750 total positive cases statewide.
Pallbearers carry Amaria Jones’ casket to the hearse Friday outside Greater St. John Bible Church.
ABOVE LEFT: Flanked by her three siblings, Mercedes Jones speaks at the funeral for her sister Amaria. ABOVE, RIGHT: Amaria’s mother, Lawanda Jones (right), hugs a supporter after the funeral.