LARGO — Some wept. Others moped, unable to accept that a young man with so much potential was gone.
About 700 friends, students, educators and family members overflowed the chapel at Moss Feaster Funeral Home on Sunday. They came to pay their respects to LeShawn Smith, 16, one of four teens who died April 10 in a Seminole crash. Among the guests was Corey Lepore, the only survivor of the horrific wreck.
"I can't cry because I don't feel like he's dead," Terrace Whitfield, 15, a Dixie Hollins freshman, said before the private service.
A few minutes after the service began, Smith's buddy and Largo High basketball teammate D.J. McNeil, 16, sat on the curb near the entrance of the chapel. He couldn't bear to see his friend, known for his comical expressions and zest for life, lying in a casket.
During the service, teachers and friends shared how Smith touched them and how his warmth and brightness would live on.
His basketball coach, Phillip Price, talked about what a great competitor Smith was, and how he respected Smith's courage to be his own person.
Teammate and buddy Dyimond Johnson, 17, read a poem describing Smith as "one of God's most precious gifts." He said Smith led his life "like a star," also a reference to one of Smith's favorite songs by rapper Gucci Mane.
Smith's reading teacher, Sharon Feldhake, gave his mother a basket filled with mementos. Among them were messages from students and a star to hang on the family Christmas tree, because Smith stood out from the crowd.
Feldhake also read a poem written by student Emily Kugler about Smith's smile and the way he made her happy on her roughest days.
"I know you're looking at us from high above," Kugler wrote. "So when they ask me how I know. I look above and see the glow."
After the service, hundreds filed out of the chapel. Some now wore smiles. Several said they were uplifted by the words of the Rev. Edward "Bebe" Hobson. They said he encouraged them to put things in God's hands, celebrate Smith's life and know that the teenager is in a better place.
"It's hard to accept," Kugler, 16, said after the service. "But it's comforting."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.