By Daniel Silliman
At first, they prayed for healing, for deliverance, and for Jesus to take away the pain.
A year ago, at a candle light memorial for Edward "Boo-Man" Mills, a 17-year-old who was murdered while selling marijuana on a Sunday afternoon on Flint River Road, the people prayed in tongues, a prayer language some Christians say they use when they don't know the words to pray.
Then they prayed for justice. At a second memorial held in May, when prosecutors' blunders reduced the suspected murder's possible prison sentence from life to just a few years, the people prayed for Jesus to "make it right." They held lighted candles in the evening, at the scene of the murder, and asked God to give them justice.
But the tone was different on Tuesday. At the third candlelight memorial, on the anniversary of the young man's murder, more than 50 people gathered at dusk at the scene of the shooting and again they sang, again they prayed, but this time, they asked God to protect their children and encourage young people to avoid the temptations of fast money, the street and the devil.
"It was very selfish of me to weep and moan," said Tammy Mills, Edward Mills mother, "and not give God his child back. He is God's child and God just loaned him to me. I said, 'God, this is your son. I'm going to give him back to you.'"
Last year, when Tammy Mills stood where her son was killed, her face was stilled by the grief, paused in a look of blank shock. On Tuesday, Tammy Mills turned her face to the young men and women who were friends of her son's. Admitting that Edward Mills was "in the street," when he died, she gave a simple message of self-empowerment.
"'They' are not doing it to us," she said. "We're doing it to ourselves ... Stick together. Love each other. You know, obey your parents. Stay in school."
Curtis Williams, pastor of New Dimensions Bible Church, gave a similar message. Comparing teenagers' situation to the Gospel story where Jesus was tempted by Satan, he said they should resist the temptations of physical things. "There's another life, more than what we see," the pastor said. "There's a greater life ... There's a road you can travel that can take you places you never thought you could go."
Williams said his mother was murdered when she was 26, and a cousin of his was murdered just recently. He emphasized his familiarity with poverty and violence, but said he was able to rise above that life through prayer and determination.
Where once the crowd of Edward Mills' mourners had talked about justice and retribution, on Tuesday they were talking about love and "rising above." In May, the memorial for justice ended with young people promising Tammy Mills they would "take care of" justice, if the criminal justice system wouldn't. At the vigil Tuesday, some police cars idled on one end of the parking lot, on hand to prevent possible retaliations, but the gathered mourners were talking about something totally different.
A friend of Edward Mills', wearing a big, blue baseball cap and brand-new sneakers, echoed the pastor's call to find another way. "I'm tired of the ghetto, if you know what I'm saying," Shon Tilley said. "People talking about a recession, well, it's always been a recession here. You know what I' mean? But, sometimes, maybe you got to find what's good and just hang on, just to hang on to something."
And they were, Tuesday night, hanging on to the memory of Edward Mills, whom they all called "Boo-Man." As one woman said, "he wasn't no bad child." She said, summing things up, "We love God and we love Boo-Man, and peace be with everybody. So lets do the right thing to each other."
The man accused of killing Edward Mills, Jeffrey Winslow, Jr., is set to stand trial in juvenile court on Nov. 3. He will be the first person in the history of the county to be tried for murder as a juvenile. If found guilty, the 17-year-old could be sentenced to juvenile detention until he turns 21.