The Washington Post

‘PJ’ is laid to rest

The 8-year-old aspiring football player was fatally shot in August

- BY JASMINE HILTON

Hundreds mourn the 8-year-old aspiring football star killed by stray gunfire after a scrimmage.

Green turf and orange cones lined the front of the center aisles. A football was placed square in the middle. The 8-year-old’s football jersey with his number “21” lay enshrined in a glass frame.

The scene was a replica of Peyton John “PJ” Evans’s favorite place — a football field.

But there was no running or touchdowns on this makeshift field. It was at the young boy’s funeral.

Hundreds of people filled the pews at City of Praise Family Ministries church in Landover on Friday to celebrate the life of the rising third-grader who was killed by stray gunfire on Aug. 24 while he was with family celebratin­g a game-winning scrimmage.

PJ’S teammates on the Showcase Sharks sat next to each other in rows just feet away from his glass-enclosed casket. The boys wore their jerseys, each with a red button that had a picture of PJ in his uniform.

A light-up sign with a picture of PJ chasing a football with an NFL logo showcased the dream he never got to realize.

While playing video games at a family member’s apartment, a white sedan drove up and gunfire broke out in the parking lot outside, police said. The “up-and-coming football star,” as his family called him in his obituary, was fatally struck.

PJ’S mother, Tiffani Evans, stood to her feet and nodded her head to a

song during the service: “What about the children . . . so many innocent children . . .”

PJ is among several children and teens who have died of gun violence in Prince George’s County and the surroundin­g Washington region in recent months. Nyiah Courtney, a 6-year-old girl who loved to dance, was fatally shot on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues in July. And in August, two teens in Prince George’s were fatally shot in a weekend that the county reported six homicides.

Parents and city officials alike said they have had enough of the violence.

“The reality is PJ should be with us here today,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy told the crowd at the funeral. “He should have been able to grow up and pursue every little dream.”

“Every young person growing up here has that right,” she continued. “We have to put our arms around this community to prevent these senseless acts of gun violence.”

Police are still searching for the boy’s killer, and authoritie­s have increased the typical $25,000 reward for tips to help solve homicides to $35,000.

Family, friends and coaches described PJ as a good student who loved playing the violin. They also called him a “math whiz” and a star defensive tackle player “who loved God.”

Braveboy read a proclamati­on declaring Sept. 10, as “a day of celebratio­n and honor for the life and memories of PJ Evans,” she said. “We’re going to take back our streets,” which was met with applause and “Yes!” from the

“The reality is PJ should be with us here today. ... He should have been able to grow up and pursue every little dream.” Aisha Braveboy, state’s attorney for Prince George’s County

hundreds gathered.

Bishop Joel R. Peebles Sr. looked out at the pews and asked for every person who was a member of a recreation­al and community center to stand up. He then pledged financial support to help football programs like PJ’S and other community center programs continue their positive impact.

“Because of PJ, we kept asking, ‘ What can we do?’ ” Peebles said. “We are going to invest in what is the most important group in our nation, and that is our youth and young adult and our children.”

Wearing shirts that read “I am PJ” and “Long Live PJ,” family surrounded Evans as she led her son’s football team in a final huddle at the sanctuary. “I believe!” she shouted. “I believe!” the boys repeated. “In myself!” she said.

“In myself!” they said. “Without God, I’m nothing!” she said.

“With God, I’m everything!” they responded.

They all ended together with a strong, “Long live PJ!”

The boys filed outside, gathering behind a horse-drawn hearse that carried the body of their teammate.

A football sat by PJ’S side as the carriage pulled away.

 ?? PHOTOS BY MICHAEL BLACKSHIRE/THE WASHINGTON POST ??
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL BLACKSHIRE/THE WASHINGTON POST
 ??  ?? TOP: Members of PJ Evans’s football team watch as he is buried at Harmony Cemetery in Hyattsvill­e, Md., on Friday. ABOVE: Reginald Jeffries cries after seeing the casket of relative PJ Evans at his funeral in Landover, Md., on Thursday.
TOP: Members of PJ Evans’s football team watch as he is buried at Harmony Cemetery in Hyattsvill­e, Md., on Friday. ABOVE: Reginald Jeffries cries after seeing the casket of relative PJ Evans at his funeral in Landover, Md., on Thursday.
 ?? MICHAEL BLACKSHIRE/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Friends and family of 8-year-old PJ Evans attend his burial on Thursday at the Harmony Cemetery in Hyattsvill­e, Md.
MICHAEL BLACKSHIRE/THE WASHINGTON POST Friends and family of 8-year-old PJ Evans attend his burial on Thursday at the Harmony Cemetery in Hyattsvill­e, Md.

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