CHICAGO – Teddy bears and flowers adorned a Chicago church Tuesday as pastors prayed for strength at the funeral of a 6-month-old baby girl killed when a gunman fired at a minivan as she sat on her father’s lap.
Hundreds attended the service at a church in the Woodlawn neighborhood where the shooting of Jonylah Watkins occurred.
“All of us need to apologize to her for not doing our best to make the world a better place,” Pastor Marshall Hatch said. “She deserved better.”
The girl’s father, Jonathan Watkins, who was seriously wounded in the March 11 shooting, bowed his head over her small casket for about 10 minutes. The 29-year-old, who had nicknamed his daughter Smooch, wore a white hooded sweatshirt.
Jonylah’s death was the latest to draw national attention to Chicago’s struggle with gang violence and murder. The city registered more than 500 homicides last year for the first time since 2008. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recently told reporters that homicides are down this year compared to the same period of last year, but he acknowledged that the infant’s shooting made it “hard to see the progress.”
McCarthy said Monday that investigators are determined to track down those behind Jonylah’s killing. He said police have surveillance video showing the van they believe was the getaway vehicle and were trying to verify a report of an alleged Facebook post threatening Jonathan Watkins.
The father has a criminal record, and McCarthy said he is a gang member. Watkins is cooperating with the investigation, but McCarthy said there is “a lot more” help he can provide the police.
The baby’s grandmother, Mary Young, read a poem at the funeral and several religious leaders spoke.
“Lord, we pray that you would give (the girl’s family) supernatural strength,” Pastor Monique McCord said.
Earlier Tuesday mourners filed past the baby’s open casket. On Monday a line formed outside a funeral home as members of the public offered condolences to the family.
A local funeral home is paying for the services.