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

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY NADER ISSA,

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.

ASH­LEE REZIN GARCIA/SUN-TIMES PHOTOS

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.

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