L.A. Now

Baltimore police custody death: Friends, strangers pay respects to Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray: Friends and strangers pay respects to Baltimore man whose spine was severed in police custody

They streamed into the small wooden chapel, bending to embrace the man's relatives, then pausing in front of the gleaming white casket.

There lay the slim body of Freddie Gray, dressed in a white baseball cap, spotless sneakers, blue plaid tie. His face appeared at peace — a sharp contrast to the events that precipitated and have followed his death.

It was two weeks ago, on another sunny Sunday in April, that Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody. He died a week later, on April 19.

For hours Sunday afternoon, Baltimore residents passed into the chapel at Vaughn C. Greene funeral home to pay their respects to the 25-year-old. A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

"He could be anyone's child," said Angela Hall, 41, who stopped by the viewing with her fiancé and three children. "He's someone's brother. He's someone's son."

Like many, Hall said she did not personally know Gray or his family, but wanted to show her support.

Gray's relatives, including his parents, sisters and grandmother, sat near the body in the chapel, greeting a steady crowd of well-wishers. A cousin, Tykira Jones, 21, said the family was heartbroken.

"He had a good heart. He was a good person. He wasn't a violent person," Jones said.

Jones said the family felt "disgust" at the looting and violence that capped a day of peaceful protests Saturday.

"They broke people's windows who were on our side," Jones said of the vandals. "If Freddie were here, he wouldn't have done that."

But James Grooms, 25, a friend who grew up with Gray in western Baltimore, said he thought the violence would continue unless police officers were charged in Gray's death.

"They didn't get fired. They didn't get locked up," said Grooms, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Gray's face. "They better get justice or you all will see a lot more of that."

Motorists passing by tooted horns in support of a small group of demonstrators who stood across the funeral home with signs advocating "Justice for Freddie Gray."

Erika Castillo of Baltimore's Lake Evesham neighborhood held a sign saying "We pray for Freddie Gray." The 33-year-old said she had been trying to explain racism to her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, who joined her on the sidewalk.

Joe Capista of the Radnor-Winston neighborhood said he and other neighbors wanted to show their support for Gray's family.

"We wanted to recognize how important it was for our community, and all communities in Baltimore," he said.

Several political leaders came to the funeral home Sunday afternoon, including Maryland state Delegate Curt Anderson, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Councilman Bill Henry and National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People chapter President Tessa Hill-Ashton.

"I know the family," said Young, who said he had worked with Gray's paternal grandmother at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "They're not violent people. They don't approve of what happened."

"I'm hoping we can all remain peaceful," Young said.

Inside the funeral home, Gray's relatives pressed their cheeks to well-wishers, and rocked side-to-side in long embraces.

A small boy asked his mother when the man up front would wake up.

Gray lay under a fine mesh shroud that made him appear from a distance as if cloaked in mist.

A white pillow printed with his name and photo hung on the casket above him. Gray's image floated in front of a cloudy sky with two doves.

"Peace y'all," it said.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times