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Community mourns boy whose death was 'senseless' amid call for end to violence

Greco Middle School teacher Harriett Mason consoles student Sherron McCombs, 15, at the funeral of Edward Harris.
Published Jun. 14, 2015

TAMPA

Edward Harris, 14, was an usher at Northside Missionary Baptist Church, where his family attended for years. On Saturday, he lay in a coffin adorned with white flowers at the front of the church, as hundreds of people filed into his funeral.

The mourners remembered Harris, who went by E.J., as a kind and gentle boy, who loved football and basketball and wanted to go to Hills­borough High School.

"He had such a sweet demeanor, and he always greeted me with that big, beautiful smile," minister Yvonne Haggins said during the service. "He will be missed."

Deacon Felix Kelly also remembered his eternal smile, and he thanked God for the time E.J. was with them.

"Cherish the moment," he said. "Don't be like people who feel they have nothing to kneel for."

But the way E.J. died was "senseless," community activist Ali Muhammad told the congregation. E.J. was fatally shot in Woodlawn Terrace Park on May 31, the fourth teenage homicide victim and 18th overall in Tampa this year. Police do not know who killed him or what the motive might have been.

Anyone could have been in E.J.'s place, Muhammad said. The church, the neighborhood, the city has to make sure nothing like this happens again, he said.

"The violence must stop," Muhammad said. "We've got to be an example in this community."

The choir sang about being in the presence of the Lord — "That's where E.J. is," the soloist interjected. Ushers handed out fans and tissues to the people who packed the church, singing along. There was E.J.'s family, his father Edward Harris III dressed in white. There were church members.

And there were dozens of young people — his classmates at Greco Middle School, kids who lived in his neighborhood or went to his church.

This service was for those young people, pastor Ricardo Robinson said as he began his sermon, addressing them in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his usual suit.

"His purpose wasn't to be laying here," the pastor said. "It was to be doing the will of God."

He admonished the youths to respect each other. To stop calling each other derogatory names. To avoid dangerous situations. To have the courage to be different if it meant doing the right thing.

"It takes a real person to walk away and say, 'I'd rather you call me a coward, than to not live another day,' " he said.

That kind of courage took an inner spirit and an acceptance of God, he said.

"When you go out to do some of that stuff, remember that thing inside, the spirit telling you, 'Don't do it, don't do it,' " he said.

Robinson invited the young people to the front of the church, where he told them that, if they wanted, they could accept Jesus as their savior right then. Many repeated his words. The pastor gave each of the youngsters a hug — there were so many that at one point an assistant pastor directed them by microphone.

Screens in the church showed photos of E.J. as a young boy with his family and as a student at Greco Middle School. As the slideshow rolled and the choir sang, the congregation, old and young, filed past E.J.'s coffin, to say goodbye one last time.

Contact Emily McConville at emcconville@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @emmcconville.

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